Tag Archives: Ring-Necked Ducks

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.

Jackrabbit City at the Refuges

Black-Crowned Night Heron. Copyright ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Black-Crowned Night Heron. Copyright ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I got up around 6:00 am and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Colusa and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges.  It was a little chilly and clear in Sacramento, but in Willows and Colusa it was hazy and the overcast deepened as the day went on.  Got up to about 68°.

I wanted to get to the Colusa refuge early to see if I could get some photos of the Black-Crowned Night Herons in action (rather just sitting in their sleeping trees).  They hunt by night and sleep during the day.  Even getting there around 7:30 I wasn’t there early enough; they were already back “in bed” dozing away in the trees.  Some were a little further out on the edge of the branches than I’d yet seen them so I was about to get a few more clearer photos of them.  I’d really like to see them out on the water, though…

As soon as I drove into the Colusa refuge I saw a large coyote moving across a field and then realized there was another one sitting nearby in the grass.  Further along, I saw two raccoons moving through the marshes and in other areas I saw mule deer napping in the grass.  Lots of other critters out there today, too, including: Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, American Wigeons, Gadwalls, Pied-Billed Grebes, Ring-Necked Ducks, House Sparrows, Ring-Necked Pheasants, Red-Tailed Hawks, American Coots, Black Phoebes, White-Faced Ibis, Ross’s Geese, Northern Harrier, European Starlings, Red-Winged Blackbirds, a Tri-colored Blackbird, Western Pond Turtles, White-Fronted Geese, Northern Shovelers, Pintails, Jackrabbits, Tree Swallows, Western Meadowlark, and some slime mold.  Among all the usual geese and ducks, I also saw a dark-morph/blue-phase Snow Goose hanging out with the other Snow Geese but sticking out like a sore thumb among them.  I’d never seen one of them before.  I also saw my first Tri-Colored Blackbird (sort of like a Red-Winged Blackbird but with a white trim on its epaulet).  Those were cool.

As I was driving along, a guy pulled up beside me with a blue jeep and asked if I’d seen the eagle there.  Eagle?  Uh, no.  I’ve seen them at the Sacramento refuge, but not at Colusa.  The guy said he thought he’d seen an Golden Eagle there yesterday and was looking for it again.  Wow, it would be neat to see one of them around there!

The dog and I also took the sort one-mile trail along the back of the slough and platform area.  There’s another smaller platform you can walk out onto along the way.  It’s all kind of scraggly and messy along the trail, but I understand that they have the detritus along the sides of the trail to keep people from leaving it and going nearer to the water.  It’s a flat, well-marked trail that’s easy to walk so it’s suitable for all fitness levels.

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Then it was off to the Sacramento refuge for more birding.  I didn’t see any eagles, but the first bird that greeted me as I drove in was a beautiful Avocet.  I hardly ever get to see them; they’re such lovely birds.

It was jackrabbit-city along the auto tour there, too.  I saw several large groups, and a few came right up to the edge of the road before zig-zagging away through the grass.  I also saw some large groups of turtles trying to sun themselves in the partly-cloudy light. Nothing else but the usual suspects along the way, but it was still a nice drive.  By about 1:00 pm we were headed back to Sacramento and got to the house by 2:30.

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.