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Standouts: a Lorquin’s Admiral and a Wilson’s Snipe, 11-03-18

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.

Sometimes Nature Giveth You Eagles, 01-19-18

Day 1 of my 4-day birthday weekend. I was hoping to sleep in a bit, but the dog got me up around 6:00 am. I had originally planned to go to the zoo today, but something at the back of my brain kept nagging me to go to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge instead. With the government shutdown looming, if a budget isn’t agreed upon today, the refuge may be closed down until one is put in place, so this might be the only chance I’ll get this weekend to go out there… So, I got the dog ready and we were on the road before 7:00 am.

It was cold in the morning, around 42º, but got up to about 57º by the afternoon.  The sky was mostly clear, with big sofa clouds clustered around the mountains. A pretty day.

The first thing I saw at the refuge was a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on the ground by the carcass of something (that I couldn’t see clearly; lots of black feathers, it might have been a Coot). It’s always so weird to see these big bids sitting on the ground.  I saw other Red-Tails throughout my visit, including some pairs. Most of them, though, were deep in the twiggy branches of trees, and I couldn’t get any real clear photos of them.

That seemed to be true a lot today: Western Meadowlark, blocked by twigs, Peregrine Falcon, blocked by twigs, Northern Shrike, blocked by twigs… There was also a flock of Turkey Vultures on the ground, fighting over something, but all of the tall grass blocked most of what they were doing. It got really frustrating at times.  To kind of counteract that “jinx”, I actually went through the auto-tour route TWICE to get a second look at things when I could.  Doing that I was able to get some fairly good photos of Bald Eagles (adults and a juvenile), a Cooper’s Hawk, Snow Geese, a Western Pond Turtle, some Great Egrets and White-Faced Ibis, and other critters, so I was pleased with that.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

At one point, I could hear the weird crackle-warbling of Ravens, and looked around for them. They were way over my head, flying around a Red-Tailed Hawk. I didn’t know if the Ravens were chasing it off, or if they were just cruising on the air currents with it. I tried to get video of that, but the birds were so far away that the camera didn’t know what to focus on. *Sigh*.

On the I-got-the-good-side-of-that-deal front: I had pulled off to the side of the road to get some photos of a Great Egret, and while I was doing that, two White-Faced Ibis and a Snowy Egret flew right into view and landed within a few feet of the car. I also got some cute photos of a number of California Ground Squirrels. So, sometimes Nature giveth… Hah!

On my way out of the refuge, I saw another bunch of Turkey Vultures flying into a tree along the side of the road. I turned the car around and headed back to where they were, and when I got there, several of the vultures raised their wings in the “heraldic pose”, warming themselves in the sun. Other drivers caught sight of them, too, so about five or six of us ended up parking on the shoulder with our cameras and cell phones taking photos of them. A flock of humans snapping pix of a flock of vultures.

More Photos from the Wildlife Refuge

CLICK HERE for some more photos taken at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge on 11-29-17.