Wow, it’s been a while since I posted. There has been so much rain here (8″ in Sacramento just since January 1st) that I’ve been closed out of all of my usual walking spots because of flooding.
I was feeling better on Saturday and after taking some Dramamine to help combat the remaining vestiges of vertigo, I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge had been closed for most of the week because of flooding, and this was the first day it was open again.
When I left the house it was in the 30’s and super foggy in Sacramento, and it stayed cold and foggy until I got around Maxwell in Colusa County. Then it was bright and sunny and about 10 degrees warmer. Apparently EVERYONE decided to come out there, though, so the place was unusually packed with cars… which can interfere a lot with how many birds you can see up close. The American Coots were very obliging, and I even came across a spot where Snow Geese were nestled down in the grass along the road of the auto-tour because it was warm there. Along one of the sloughs, there was a whole grouping of individual birds that also didn’t seem intimidated by the cars, including a Great Egret, a Snowy Egret, a pair of White-Faced Ibises, and — what most people drove right past and didn’t see because he was well camouflaged – a juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron. The herons sleep all day and hunt at night, so this guy was dozing away, opening his eyes only briefly to look at the cars as they went by. I can’t believe he got any decent sleep there…
Because of the cold (it was between 48° and 51° while I was out there) a lot of the birds were hunkered down to keep warm, and it seemed like the hawks in the trees were all snuggled in between branches where they were difficult to see or photograph. I saw two Bald Eagles while I was out there. One of them was so far away I only got a blurry picture of him. The other was closer (within about 20 feet), but was up in a tree where, again, the branches obscured it a lot. So, although I got a few close-ups of that one, they all had twigs and branches messing up the view…
I was happy, however, to get some fairly good shots of Bufflehead ducks in the water. I never seem to be able to get any good photos of them because they’re usually so far away. But today a couple of them came up closer to the edge of the auto-tour road while they foraged for food, so I was able to get a few clear shots.
I only made the pass through the refuge once, and headed straight home after that because the Dramamine was starting to wear off and I was feeling a little bit woozy. I got home a little after noon, and put in a post roast in the slow cooker (set on “high” though, so it only took a few hours to cook properly), and made a batch of brownies before crashing for the day.
The summer heat has arrived early this year, surprising some folks who have gone out on nature walks and hikes only to find they’re battling the effects of heat well before they’re done. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are nothing to be taken lightly. To avoid being a statistic, take precautions. A lot of it is common sense, but it always bears repeating… CLICK HERE to read the whole article.
Vacation Day One. I got up around 6:00 am and took off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with the dog. It was supposed to be overcast and wet all day – and it was, but in Willows the rain was mostly a very light “mizzling” rain (heavier than mist but not really a drizzle) that turned itself on and off throughout the day. I only had to close the car windows once to keep heavier rain out, and even then it was just for a few minutes. The rest of the time, I was able to keep the windows open. Because it was cool – around 53° — I also had the floor vents in the car open and the heater on blowing warm air onto my tootsies. The cool thing about photographing when it’s overcast is that you don’t have to deal with glare and deep shadows, and that puts everything on the same “scale”.
The wildflowers were starting to winnow away at the preserve, and the grasses, vetch, teasel and other thistles, toyon bushes and other plants – like Hemlock – are starting to build up and bloom… in some places I had Killdeer running alongside the car on the gravel auto-tour road. They make nests out of the gravel and their eggs look just like little stones. I worry that some of them are building nests on the road, and they’ll get squished by the cars. I guess it comes down to “survival of the smartest”; the birds “stupid” enough to build nests in the probably won’t generate many (if any) offspring… There were Jackrabbits in abundance, too. In one place there were five of them all running and hopping around together. Since jack’s are generally solitary animals, I assumed the group was a mom and her nearly-grown offspring… Meadowlarks, Marsh Wrens and blackbirds were singing from everywhere. I got a little video snippet of the Meadowlark song… Among the blackbirds, I also saw my first Yellow-Headed Blackbird – a female who was hunkered down in the tules trying to keep warm… It was such a shock to see her among all the Red-Winged Blackbirds that at first I didn’t know what to make of her… And I think I spotted by first Loons, too, but they were so far away the photos aren’t all that good. I think they were whether young Common Loons or Pacific Loons. They had brown heads…
Saw a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks, and several American Bitterns, including one walking through the tall grass toward the tules, and I heard several other Bitterns give out their “pumper-lunk” calls from amid the overgrowth. I don’t remember ever seeing (or hearing) this many of them before. I wonder of “climate change” has dumped them all into this area this year… Came across a Striped Skunk running through the grass alongside the road. He came out of nowhere and was moving so fast I hardly had a chance to get my camera on him and ended up with a bunch of blurry photos. Sigh. I need to be “faster than Nature” to get good shots sometimes… And there were Ring-Necked Pheasants everywhere.
I also saw Double-Crested Cormorants, a few Snow Geese, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, several Kingbirds (Cassin’s, I think, rather than Western, because the head was kind of a dark charcoal gray), loads of American Coots (of course; they’re kind of ubiquitous), several Western Pond Turtles, Cinnamon Teals, a Purple Finch (They are actually red, not purple.), a few Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, some Long-Billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs, Mule Deer, Clark’s and Western Grebes, some Green-Winged Teals, Turkey Vultures, and a few Northern Harriers. So, even though the weather wasn’t the best, there were a lot of things to see and photograph. I think I ended up with something like 550 photos!
By the time I was done in the refuge, it was already around 2:30 pm and I wasn’t looking forward to the 2 hour drive back to Sacramento, so I drove in to Williams and the dog and I did an overnight at the Ramada Inn there. We shared a Subway sandwich and then hit the hay.
I got up about 7:00 am and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. It was about 43° and foggy when we headed out. The haze hung around all day, but it did get up to about 64° by the late afternoon.
The very first thing that greeted us when we entered the refuge was a huge hawk sitting on top of one of the eucalyptus trees near the nature center. After that, it seemed like I saw hawk after hawk on the driving tour. The majority of them were Red-Tailed Hawks. One of them was sitting on the branch of the tree that was growing out of a gully on the side of the road, so it was right at window-level with the car. Among the raptors, I also saw some American Kestrels, a Cooper’s Hawk, several Harrier Hawks (but only in flight), a Peregrine Falcon (that was in a weird position so I couldn’t get a decent photo of him), a Red-Shouldered Hawk and Turkey Vultures.
Other birds I saw along the drive were Black Phoebes, Red-Winged Blackbirds. Brewer’s Blackbirds, Greater White Fronted Geese, Snow Geese, Pintails. Mallards, American Coots, White-Crowned Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Northern Shovelers (including some males in their eclipse plumage), a Great Blue Heron, Gadwalls, a Great Egret, Meadowlarks, a bunch of non-breeding Eared Grebes (distinguished by their huge fluffy butts), an immature Common Gallinule, a few Bufflehead Ducks, European Starlings, and some tiny Killdeer. I also some saw some Long-billed Curlews but they were so far out in the distance I couldn’t get a decent shot of them.
At one point along the auto tour, I pulled over near a drainage ditch to let some other cars pass me, and as I was sitting there, I hear something splash in the water in the ditch. I looked out through the passenger side window, and in the water was a River Otter! The light was hitting him at a weird angle, some he was mostly in silhouette, but I managed to get a few photos and video snippet of him before he gave me an explosive snort and disappeared under the water again. I also got to see a raccoon family, but they were crossing the road in front of me and too far away to get any photos of them.
When I was done with the auto tour, I let Sergeant Margie out of the car for a walk around the small wetlands area near the nature center. ((Dogs are allowed as long as they’re on a leash.)) He’s getting up in age (he’ll be 13 years old on the 22nd of this month), though, and can’t walk as far as he used to, so we only got about a quarter of the way through before I had to get him back to the car. His spirit is always willing, but his body can’t take long-long walks anymore. Poor old critter.
Veteran’s Day. I have the day off. I got up around 7:00 this morning and had some coffee and a light breakfast before heading out to the American River Bend Park. It was about 43° outside when I went out there. I walked around for about 3 hours before heading back home (and by then it was in the 50’s).
When I first got into the park I was treated with the view of a young Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting in a tree. I pulled off the trail and was able to get quite a few good photos of him. That was a nice wat to start my walk. It wasn’t wet enough for there to be much in the way of fungi, so I didn’t see much of that but I did find some Sulphur Shelf. On my walk, I also saw Bufflehead Ducks, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Spotted Towhee, Killdeer, several Cormorants (including one that caught a fish), a male Common Merganser and several mule deer.
Around 10 o’clock I headed off to Lodi for the Sandhill Crane Festival “Raptors by Boat” excursion. Because I’d never been there before I wasn’t sure how long the trip would really take or if I’d be able to find the place, so I gave myself a little less than 2 hours: 1 hour for the drive, 20 minutes to get lost, find the place and find a place to park, then another 20 minutes to find the check-in station and wait in line for the tour to start. Well I didn’t get lost – which is a plus – and although parking was a bitch, I did manage to find a nearby side street to park on, so I had about 30 minutes to kill before standing in line. The “festival” was really a much smaller event than I was anticipating. It consisted of the tours and classes at the Lodi town hall center, and a small room full of vendors. There was only one sign outside of the building announcing that the festival was taking place there.
As I was walking up to the front door of the hall lobby, I saw a lot of Western Bluebirds in the trees, along with some Dark Eyed Juncos. Inside the doors was a big checklist of the birds and critters people could see on the tour, so I checked off the two bird species I saw before I even got in the door. The vendors were mostly from surrounding conservation groups and local artists (some of whom did spectacular work). I wanted to buy some things, but didn’t have the funds for them this weekend. (I get paid next weekend. Sigh.) The rooms being used for the festival were directly adjacent to an art gallery, too, so I peeked in there.
When it came time for everyone to line up and check in for the tour, we were all handed a map and told we were going to drive out to the boat at the Pardee Reservoir ourselves—there was no van or bus to take us. I knew it was going to take at 2 hours for the round trip and about 3 hours for the boat tour – which meant we wouldn’t get back to Lodi until after dark. There was no way I was going to drive out to the middle of nowhere and then try to find my way back in the dark, so I told the group leader I was going to need a ride. A 30-ish couple, Ramona and her hubby Rick, said they would drive me. ((If they hadn’t offered, I wouldn’t have gone on the trip. I don’t like driving out to the middle of nowhere by myself, when I’m not sure where I’m going. And I hate driving in the dark. The festival needs to TELL people things like this in advance, or charge an extra $20 a head to pay for van rentals.))
The drive took us up into the foothills well outside of Lodi, through some little “hick towns” and past the giant Cherokee Reservoir to the smaller Pardee Reservoir (which is still pretty big). Ramona and Rick were quiet but good natured people, so the drive was nice. They both has a gentle quirky sense of humor, and got excited about things like the retro 1950’s-looking McDonald’s in town and the cows in the pastures along the road. They called the calves “cow kittens” Hah!
To thank them for being my chauffeur, I told them that I would pay to fill up their gas tank for their trip back home if they’d let me; they were very grateful for that. Ramona was excellent at following the directions to the reservoir so we got there in the middle of the pack of cars. ((You’d think, too, that the festival people would supply 2 vans for transport, rather than causing a huge waste of gasoline and impacting the environment with the trammeling and exhaust of the 10 cars they made drive out to the reservoir.)) On our way we saw a dead deer on the side of the road with a big Turkey Vulture sitting on top of it. It went by too fast for me to get a photo (and on the way back, it was dark, so we missed that opportunity.)
Anyway, at the Pardee Reservoir – which is closed to the public during this time of the year – we waited at the gate for the tour leader, a ranger named Charles, a handsome 30-ish bald man with a sweet disposition. He even brought homemade cookies for us to snack on. He opened up the gates for us, and then escorted us down to where the boat launch was. The water level in the reservoir was unusually low (only at 60% of capacity instead of its normal 90%) because all of the cold water from the bottom of the reservoir had been drained off into the Cherokee Reservoir to attract spawning trout and salmon. So, we had to walk down the bank a distance and climb onto the boat – a 2 pontoon houseboat piloted by another young handsome man named Matt.
As I said, I’d never been to this place before, and I was immediately struck by the eerie beauty of all of the exposed rock formations. The reservoir was dug out of hillsides that are predominantly slate and the sheet of slate were stacked up at all angles along the shore like decks of cards. In some areas, stands of the shale were bleached white and looked like alien dinosaur bones. The place would be great for fossil-hunting expeditions, I’m sure.
The first and last parts of the boating tour were pretty much BOR-ING, but the middle part of it was awesome and made up for that. Matt drove the boat into a large alcove (where he almost grounded us on a sand shoal) and there we saw some hawks, Common Mergansers, Grebes, Canada Geese, Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles, deer, river otters, and other small shorebirds. The Bald Eagles were all first through third year birds, so they didn’t have their white heads yet. (They get the white head when they’re about 4 years old.) They flew back and forth over the boat, landing on trees or rocks on the shoreline and posed for us. It was funny to be on a boat during this because people would all rush to one side to photograph the birds from there – and the boat would tip that way – and then the people would all run to the other side of the boat to see something else – and the boat would tip to that way. Lots of “rocking the boat” on this trip which made photo-taking a little difficult at times. No one got seasick, though; I think that was because the boat was so open and the shoreline was always in site… I tried to stay in a center area as much as I could, and shot photos through and around people; although I DID venture to the railing on occasion, especially when someone spotted the otters.
What was funny, too… Remember how I’ve been telling you in earlier posts that I’m having trouble getting photos of Belted Kingfishers? Well, EVERYONE of this boating trip said they were having the same problem. The birds seldom sit still long enough for you to get any shots of them. As we were going along the shore of the reservoir, we spotted about 6 Belted Kingfishers, and as soon as we focused or cameras on them, they took off. It became kind of a game. Everyone laughed about it.
Even though we didn’t do any real walking or hiking, the drive and all of the fresh air had us all yawning on the way back to the boat launch area. There was a Loon in the water there, but like the Kingfisher, he wasn’t cooperating for photos and would dive down every time someone tried to snap his picture. We all disembarked on the shore, and thanked Charles and Matt, and then everyone headed home. Ramona and Rick drove me back to the festival hall in Lodi and stayed for a little bit to see if any of the vendors were still around. I walked to my car and headed home – in the dark. I got lost a couple of times, but realized my missteps right after I made them, so I was able to get back on track. I got home around 7:00 pm. Phew! A long day… but I really enjoyed seeing the eagles.