I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to see if there was anything interesting to see. It was all the usual suspects at the refuge, but I did get to see a Blue-Winged Teal. I hardly ever get to spot one of those, so that was a nice treat. Because of the wing there was a lot of “chop” on the water which limited the number of birds swimming in it to just the stronger swimmers. The wind was also knocking butterflies around, and could be heard on the videos I shot. Not insurmountable, just kind of disruptive. Still, I saw about 25 different species of birds, which is pretty good for a three-hour viewing session.
Some of the wildflowers are coming out all over the refuge, too, including thick swaths of Goldfields and Fiddleneck, and the pink-headed Squirrel-Tail Barley. That made for some pretty photos…
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.
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 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)…
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.
Vacation Day 13. I got up about 5:30 this morning. The hotel bed and pillows were wonderfully comfortable, but I just couldn’t get into a sound sleep, so I cat-napped on and off all night. Still, I was feeling pretty energetic, so I packed up all my stuff and was out of the hotel before 6:00 am. I had some leftover pineapple from yesterday and had that for breakfast – and gave Sgt. Margie one of his small cans of dog food before we left. Then I went back to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (which was about 15 minutes away from the hotel).
I saw a lot today that I saw yesterday, but today I also got my first look at an Eared Grebe in its breeding plumage (which is VERY different than its non-breeding plumage) and I saw some Bullock’s Orioles, but they moved too fast through the trees for me to get any good photos of them. I also saw a Peregrine Falcon and a Bald Eagle. The eagle was perched in a tree, but I couldn’t get close enough to him to get a good photo. I got one shot of him through the windshield but it sucked. Dang it!
Here’s a video of a female Blackbird collecting fibers for her nest: CLICK HERE
Along one part of the auto tour you can see a bare scraggly tree off to the left. Today, I noticed there was a nest on one of the outer branches… and there was a huge Great Horned Owl sitting in it! Cool! I took some photos even though it was pretty distant from the car. I also think I saw the gray-white fluff of an owlet next to the mama. These are the moments when I wish I had a better telephoto lens.
Oh, and I also saw some goslings with their parents, AND the wildly-colored babies of a Pied-Billed Grebe. I’d seen photos of the babies before but had never seen one live. The pictures I got aren’t the best because the birds were moving away from me in the water, but I just loved the pattern on the chicks!
And where there were rabbits all over the place yesterday, today it was California Ground Squirrels. They were out en masse. Some of them are very skittish and shy, but others are bold. There were a couple of them who sat on the ground right outside my car window and posed for me. Hah!
The dog and I were out of the refuge by about 11:00 and headed back to Sacramento, but along the way I stopped to get us some tacos which we ate for lunch at a rest stop. It was a nice couple of days. Now, I need to forage through the 2000+ photos I took! As we were heading home, the clouds were starting to move in… there’s supposed to be rain coming in for tomorrow.
Once home, I relaxed for a bit with the dogs, and then baked up some chicken and biscuits for supper and had them with fresh asparagus.
Vacation Day 12. I had stayed up late Wednesday night to watch “The Night Manager” on AMC (with Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston), and was going to play today by ear, but I woke up around 5:00 am. I was feeling oddly energetic – considering that I’d stayed up until 11:15 pm last night – so I packed an overnight bag, got the dog into the car, and headed off to Willows to spend the day at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I got there around 7:30 am and didn’t leave until 2:30 pm, just driving around the auto tour and walking some of the trails.
Sergeant Margie doesn’t mind the car ride (since he gets extra treats and fancy food for being a good boy in the car), but he’s showing hi age on the walking trails. He can barely keep up with me, and at one point I was seriously considering picking him up and carrying him the rest of the way to the car. He was a trooper, though, and made it back under his own power – if very slowly.
What I didn’t like about the trails was that there were a grillion ticks everywhere. Every time Sergeant Margie stopped to pee, I had to stop and pull about 6 ticks off of his face and ears. I never see that many ticks at any of the other places where I go walking. It was GROSS!
Lots of Jackrabbits and a few Cottontails were scrambling around. For so many critters, I’m surprised I don’t see more babies – especially the jacks. Their babies, called leverets, are born above ground, fully furred, and ready to go within a few hours of birth. (Unlike baby rabbits, called bunnies, that are born underground, almost furless, and unable to see or hear for about 3 weeks.)
The big show of the day, though, was the Killdeer. They’re starting to build their gravel nests and lay their eggs, and I came across several mamas doing their “broken wing act” to try to distract me from where their nests were. They fly a few feet away from the nest, lay on their side on the ground, and flap around as though they’re injured. Once they feel their nest is safe, they jump up, fly off, and then circle around back to the nest to make sure the eggs are okay. One of them had built her stone nest right next to the pull-off area beside a large viewing platform. Almost within reach, but far enough behind a fence to keep law-abiding humans away from her. She didn’t mind when I walked up to the fence, but she wasn’t thrilled with Sergeant Margie. She flew off and rolled on ground, crying, pretending to be wounded… and then didn’t really know what to do when I didn’t fall for her act. She got up, walked off a bit more, fell back on the ground, stood up, walked away, fell over on the ground… As silly as she looked, I had to give her props for her persistence, and for the fact that her walk-and-fall routine circled the area where her nest was so it was always within her sight.
After I put the dog back in the car, she flew back to her nest and its tiny eggs that look like stone. I stepped up onto the viewing platform to get photos of her from another angle, and while I was up there, a male Killdeer came by. The female ran out to him for an on-the-gravel quickie, and then went back to her nest. Hah! Wutta slut!
I also watched a group of Kingbirds cavorting around. Some of what I saw I’m sure was courtship behavior males flying up and down, zig-zagging through the air while they chattered. I think the other behavior I saw was territorial: several bird fighting back and forth between adjacent trees where each had a nest.
I saw four Bitterns during the day (which is the most I’ve ever seen there). Three actually flew across the hiking trail in front of me and disappeared into the grass on the opposite side of it. The fourth one was trying to hide in some tules along the auto tour route, stretching itself up to try to mimic the reeds… but it’s belly was too fat, so it was easy to spot despite its efforts. Hah!
I was hoping to see some Grebes in the permanent wetland area, but they weren’t around today.
I did get to see a lot of other critters, though, including American Avocets, Meadowlarks, Dunlin, Mule Deer, Red-Winged Blackbirds, American White Pelicans, Double-Crested Cormorants, Turkey Vultures, White-Front Geese, Snow Geese and Canada Geese, some Ring-Necked Pheasants, quite a few dragonflies, and more and more and more. Lots of photos… I also caught a glimpse of raccoons in my side mirror, but by the time I maneuvered the car around to get a better shot they were gone. Waah!
As I said, I stayed at the refuge until about 2:30 pm, and by then I was exhausted so I drove another 15 minutes or so into the town of Willows and spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express there.
I don’t know why, really, but the place was full! They only had two rooms left: a large suite and a small first floor room. I certainly didn’t need a suite, so I took the small room… and found it was all ADA compliant with a push-button to open the door after you unlocked it, a low-profile bath tub with a seat in it, and a high-rise toilet. This old woman scored! I had tuna fish and crackers with fruit for supper and then hit the hay.
Vacation Day 10. I got up around 6:30 and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preservefor my walk. Usually, they don’t open their gates until 9:00 am, but they must’ve had a lot of people complaining about that – including me. In the late spring and summer months, 9:00 am is already “too late” in the day to see anything, and it gets too hot to walk more quickly in the day… So, now their gates are open a lot earlier. Even so, there wasn’t a lot to see there. The wetland areas are drying up, and it’s not quite warm enough for the dragonflies to emerge or for the midges and wasps to start forming their galls on the oak trees (although I did see some of the big “oak apple” galls on a Valley Oak)… But there were TONS of mosquitoes. I got bitten all over my arms. Need to remember to buy some bug spray next time I got to the store. Blug!
I was surprised to see American Avocets at the preserve. I’d never seen them that far “south” in the region before. They use California as their migration corridor — breeding in the north, then traveling south to rest – but it seems like I’ve seen a LOT more of them this year than in previous years. And they’re all in their breeding plumage… There were also a few Green-Winged Teals and Cinnamon Teals, some Black-Necked Stilts, Northern Shovelers, Dowitchers and tiny Dunlins but they were few and far between. The largest populations were of Killdeer and Red-Winged Blackbirds – who are nesting now – some Marsh Wrens, and loads of Coots. I got a glimpse of a Lesser Goldfinch and some Song Sparrows along the boardwalk area. And I saw a gorgeous California Sister butterfly, but I couldn’t get my camera to focus on it before it flew off. Dang it!
There was wild mustard and charlock (a kind of wild radish) in bloom everywhere, and the dock plants and scrubby willows were leafing out… some of them covered with Ladybeetles and their tiny alligator-looking larvae… In the native plant garden the purple and red Penstemon were in bloom along with some California Poppies. Very pretty… In some of the muddy areas, I found the footprints of Raccoons, but didn’t see any of the beasties myself… I saw some Paper Wasp nests alongside an abandoned must nest (made by House Finches, I think) under the awning over a sign… I also found a single bright green dragonfly hiding in the grass: a female Western Pondhawk. I don’t know how I spotted her; pure luck.
Best photos of the day were of a Song Sparrow and a Mockingbird.