A Big Catch at Spring Lake

I remember being surprised the first time I saw Cormorants at Lake Ralphine and Spring Lake because I’ve always associated them with Puget Sound or the Ocean. Over the years, though, I’ve become so accustomed to seeing them there I ignore them most of the time.

It was impossible, though, to ignore the commotion on Spring Lake created by these cormorants.

I instinctively focused on the group and ended up with this shot of a cormorant with a huge fish.

Apparently the other cormorants weren’t immediately willing to concede defeat and pursued the lucky cormorant while it tried to block them with its wings.

I was amazed to see the cormorant swallow the fish whole.

Perhaps the other cormorants didn’t think it possible, either, because they didn’t give up pursuit until the tail had nearly disappeared.

Now I know why there are so many cormorants and mergansers — not to mention fishermen — on these two lakes.

More from Lake Ralphine and Spring Lake

Although it’s my favorite, the Acorn Woodpecker isn’t the only bird I look forward to seeing while walking around the two lakes in Santa Rosa.

Although I often see Common Mergansers at Belfair this time of year, I never see them as close up as I do at Lake Ralphine.

Working on this picture I couldn’t figure out why the head didn’t look quite right when I realized that the head is coated with water, that the merganser had just raised its head out of the water and the beak and head were still glazed with water.

I missed seeing the Swans at Lake Ralphine but got a glimpse of this Swan on Spring Lake.

I was disappointed at the beginning of the walk when I didn’t see a single Snowy Egret on Lake Ralphine but was relieved when this one posed for me on our routine. It was so close that I had to back up to keep it in the frame.

The two birds I didn’t see I expected/wanted to see were a Green Heron and a Night Heron.

Splish Splash

We spent our first two days in Santa Rosa looking out the window at the rain and wind we thought we had left in Puget Sound. On the third day we visited Lake Ralphine and Spring Lake where we were greeted by this Acorn Woodpecker before we even managed to get out of the car.

Unfortunately, this bird wanted nothing to do with me, or the sunshine.

Fortunately on returning to our car this one was much more cooperative and kept an eye on me while taking an afternoon splash.

It put on quite a show that must have lasted five minutes

or more.

Meadowlark at Colusa NWR

I’ll have to admit that with the gray skies I considered skipping Colusa NWR after sighting the Vermillion Flycatcher because I couldn’t imagine seeing anything more exciting the rest of the day. I guess habit kept me on my way. We didn’t see anything nearly as exciting as the Vermillion Flycatcher at Colusa; in fact, it was downright dull most of the way.

I’ve deleted most of the shots I took at Colusa because they don’t match shots I’ve taken there before, but sitting in front of my computer looking at several shots of this Western Meadowlark it occurred to me that if it had been the first time I’d ever seen one it might have struck me as remarkable as the Vermillion Flycatcher.

The black necklace complements the Meadowlark’s bright yellow breast and eyebrows.

Apparently I must have seemed as common to the bird as it seemed to me as it took a second to glance over at me

and proceeded to search for food.

Unfortunately we weren’t treated to its beautiful song (probably because it’s the wrong time of year), but its striking looks and delightful song would have to compare favorably with any bird.

Maxwell’s Vermillion Flycatcher

We always follow our visit to Sacramento NWR with a visit to the Colusa NWR which is on the way to Santa Rosa. On our last visit we included a trip to the Maxwell cemetery because a Vermillion Flycatcher had been sighted there. Even though we hadn’t seen it on that visit, we decided to stop again because it was one the way and because we had recently seen pictures of it posted on the California Birding Facebook page.

Upon arrival at the cemetery we were greeted by hundreds, if not thousands, of birds — mostly blackbirds and starlings. It was hard to imagine a single Vermillion Flycatcher would stick around with all that company, but we hadn’t walked very far when I spotted a bright red splash of color that didn’t quite look like the flowers that decorated many of the sites.

Sure enough, it was the Vermillion Flycatcher

in all its vermillion glory.

As soon as it saw the camera it flew to a gravestone further away and looked back

as if to say, “Catch me if you can.”

I never got another shot of it from the front or in flight, but I did manage to get closer several times.

This flycatcher certainly wasn’t afraid of people, and I imagine I could have gotten better shots if I had wanted to set up my other camera and lens on a tripod and wait for a better shot, but we were on our way to Colusa and wanted to reach Santa Rose by dinner time.

Raptors at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

If you like raptors, this is the perfect time of the year to go birding. Not only are the raptors concentrated in areas where birds overwinter, but the lack of leaves makes it easier to see them. It was impossible to miss the many raptors, mostly Red-Tailed Hawks, at the Sacramento NWR.

Leslie took most of these shots with the little Canon SX 60HS and more often than not the light was behind the birds, which they seem to prefer. This one of the Red-Tail getting ready to take off was one of the better shots

as well as this shot of a very threatening looking Red-Tail.

I nearly missed the best shots of a raptor because I’d reset my camera’s shutter speed to get a shot of the hummingbirds at the feeder at the visitors’ center. Luckily I was shooting in RAW format and was able to push the exposure and get these shots of a Cooper’s Hawk that decided to come for a morning brunch at the feeders.

Despite its grizzly nature, I couldn’t help but snap shots of the Cooper’s Hawk feeding,

right down to the last feather.

It’s times like this I’m glad I shoot everything in RAW format. The shots would obviously have been better if the exposure had been correct, but they do a good job showing what the hawk actually looked like in the shadows.

Snow Geese

What first struck me when I first visited Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in 2011 was the sheer number of Snow Goose — thousands of them. I’ve never seen that many here again, including on this trip. Even though we were on the refuge at first light, most of the Snow Goose were already feeding in nearby fields. Luckily, there were still small flocks to photograph. When you only see a few geese, you tend to look at them more closely and notice things you hadn’t noticed before.

Snow Goose suggests “white” and that’s what I tend to see when I observe them in nature. These two are certainly “typical.”

I’m not sure I ever really noticed before, but almost every Snow Goose I saw on the refuge had a brown-tinged head.

I’m assuming that since the tinge on the head matches the ring around the bottom, that this is the result of rooting in the mud, not natural coloring.

When I first saw this juvenile Snow Goose, I thought perhaps it was a Blue Morph, but, no, this is a normal juvenile.

No wonder so many people have problems identifying birds when they go through transformations like this.

A few years ago I doubt I would have realized that these juvenile Snow Geese were Snow Geese at all.

If I had seen this juvenile by itself in a different location, I doubt I would have identified it as a Snow Goose,

especially because of the mottled breast.