Tag Archives: Eared Grebes

Mostly Jackrabbits, Marsh Wrens and an Eagle

I was feeling pretty burnt out, so I took a mental health day today, and went over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with Sergeant Margie. It’s supposed to rain all weekend, so I was hoping it would be nice today… and it was.  It was in the 40’s when I got there and about 59° when I left.  There was a high overcast, but no rain.

At the refuge, there were lots of jackrabbits everywhere and they’re always fun to watch.  And the tules were full of little male Marsh Wrens and their rattling calls, trying to attract females. The place also seemed overrun with young and old White-Crowned Sparrows. They were everywhere! Hah! As I was photographing some of them, I saw a large bird fly onto a pile of broken tules behind the car, so I backed up to see what it might be… It was a handsome juvenile Cooper’s Hawk that posed for me for several seconds before flying off again.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

There weren’t any big flocks of birds, but there seemed to be a really good variety of them.  I saw  Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons, Gadwalls, Black-Necked Stilts, a few Killdeer, a Raven, several Turkey Vultures, Red-Tailed Hawks, Greater Yellowlegs, Ring-Necked Pheasants, Pied-Billed Grebes, Western Meadowlarks, Red-Winged Blackbirds, White-Faced Ibis, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, several Hairy Woodpeckers, a Great Blue Heron, a pair of California Towhees, Cinnamon Teals, and lots more.

When I stopped to get some photos and video snippets of Eared Grebes, I could see some other movement in the water.  At first I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at: something dark rolling under the surface…  Then a head popped up.  It was an otter feeding in the shallow water!  I got some video of him chomping on something, but he moved so quickly it was hard to keep up with him.  As soon as I focused the camera, he dove down into the water, then popped up somewhere else… It’s always fun to see those guys, though, so I was pleased with the little bit of footage that I got.

The big payout of the day was getting to see a Bald Eagle.  It was sitting in a scag of a tree along the auto-tour route by itself, and was facing right toward the car.  I was able to drive up within about 15 feet of the tree to get some photos.  At one point, the eagle looked straight down at me – just before it flew off.  Neat!

There was also a pond where I could see the gold and silver humped backs of carp… I think they were spawning; swimming closely alongside one another and rolling around.  It’s unusual for there to be carp in there.  They must’ve been brought in with the flood waters from the river and then stranded when the waters receded again…


When I was done at the Sacramento refuge, I drove over to the Colusa refuge, but they were still totally flooded and all of the auto-tour routes were closed.  I got out and had lunch with Sergeant Margie at their picnic area, and then walked part of their hiking trail.  Sergeant Margie hadn’t been doing well on walks for a while; he’s slowing down in his old age. But he did really well on the walk and even trotted ahead of me for most of the way. He must’ve needed a “day off” to feel better, too.

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.

Two Nature Refuges and 35+ Species in One Day!

Bald Eagle. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Bald Eagle. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

The cough still lingers, and woke me up a couple of times during the night, so I wasn’t a well-rested as I would have liked to have been.  Still, I got myself up before 7:00 am and headed off with the dog to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  The weather seemed perfect for bird-watching and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity.  I put some cough drops and snacks in the car, and off we went…

At the refuge, the Snow Geese were moving into areas closer to the auto-tour route and within the first few feet I was able to see some of them “slumming” with a small flock of American Wigeons and tiny Killdeer.  That was a nice way to start the cruise.  Along the way I watched a persistent male Gadwall trying to seduce a female and watched a House Sparrow battling with some Tree Swallows for a nesting hole.  The swallows wanted it, but the sparrow had already laid claim to it so they took turns knocking each other around.  The sparrow was stalwart but outnumbered, so I don’t know if she was able to keep her nest or not.

I also came across one adult Bald Eagle sitting in the “eagle tree” along the route, but he was right over my head, so I was hard to get pictures of him.  I had to hold my camera over the roof of the car and shoot blindly… but I did manage to get a few good shots of him.  Further on down the road, a Great Blue Heron posed on a felled tree limb for me for a little while before taking off and disappearing into a gully.  At another spot, when I pulled off to the side of the road to get some photos of a White-Faced Ibis, I noticed that right next to road, in the stubby brush was a Wilson’s Snipe.  It was napping there and didn’t seem bothered by the sound of the car right next to it, so I got some good close-ups of him.

I didn’t get any super-tremendous photos on the tour, but got to see a lot of birds, and got some fair pictures, so I was satisfied with that.

I finished the auto-tour early, so as I was heading back to Sacramento, I pulled off the highway and tried to find the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge again.  I’d tried doing that once before and followed signs that lead me to the wrong place (it was an office, not the refuge), so this time I ignored the signs and just looked for O’Hair Road because I knew the refuge was supposed to be accessible from there.  And… yay!  I found it.  ((I’ll write up a page on this site for it, so you can find it more easily yourself.))

It’s not anywhere near as impressive as the Sacramento refuge, but has a great viewing platform and attracts some bird species I don’t normally see that the larger refuge.  The Colusa refuge is surrounded by agricultural land, so there are levies and sloughs all around it.  It also has a driving tour that’s a 3-mile loop (the one in the large refuge is about 6 miles) and a 1-mile hiking trail that takes you around the main pond and slough where the viewing platform is.  I didn’t have my walking shoes with me, so I didn’t do the walking trail today.  Along with the usual suspects, like ducks and egrets, I got to see my first group of Ross’s Geese here.  It’s a little difficult for me to tell the Ross’s Geese from the Snow Geese because they’re both white, they both have pink bills, and they both have black primary feathers on their wings.  The only way I can tell one from the other is that the Ross’s Geese have a straighter bill and don’t have the black “grin patch” like the Snow Geese have.

Another cool sighting was at the end of auto-tour loop.  I came across a spot where it looked like there were a lot of grey and white “rags” hanging in the naked branches of some shrubbery along the backside of a slough that ran parallel to the road.  And I’m wondering if maybe they’re “prayer flags” or something…  As I got closer, I realized the “rags” were actually a flock of Black-Crowned Night Herons!  There were over 30 of them just sitting  in the branches, dozing, waiting for dusk (when they go hunting).  They were too far away from me (and obscured by twigs and branches) for me to get any really good close-ups of them, but I did manage to get a few shots.  I’d seen this species before (especially at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery where about four of them found their way into the raceways where the hatchery kept all of their young trout), but had never seen this many collected in one spot before.  It was really neat!

Oh, and I also found a small group of birds nest fungus when I was there.  Seemed appropriate. Overall, I think I counted over 35 different bird species for the day…

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When I was done at the Colusa reserve I continued heading home, stopping once at a rest stop to take a late-afternoon lunch break with the dog.  We had chicken and cake, and some sparkling water, and listened to flocks of Brewer’s Blackbirds singing and squawking at each other in the trees.

It was an exhausting day, but a nice one.  I’m glad I went out.