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.

Final Shots from the Sacramento NWR

Serious birders will drive hundreds of miles to try to track down a particular bird; I’m not a serious birder. I don’t chase birds, though I do look forward to seeing them at certain places. As I noted yesterday, I had hoped to see hundreds of Snow Geese at the Sacramento NWR as I have seen in the past. I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed that I only saw few of them. Truthfully, though, I go to the Sacramento NWR because I love the PLACE. It’s full of life no matter when I go there, even though it’s not always the life I expect to see.

For instance, I can almost always count on seeing Snowy Egret like this one

and Great Egrets, like this one that just happened to be standing right next to the Snowy Egret.

And if that wasn’t treat enough, I got shots of this male House Finch

and this Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

while standing on the same platform.

I didn’t have to drive too far down the road before Leslie caught this shot of a Downy Woodpecker beside the road

and I got this shot of a Red-Tailed Hawk

daring me to cross into forbidden territory.

Back to the Sacramento NWR

We just got back from a week-long trip to California where we had hoped to get a respite from the Pacific Northwest’s constant rain. After encountering heavy snow and rain near Mt. Shasta, I wasn’t too happy to wake up to a thick fog that made me wonder if it was even worth driving to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Luckily, a few miles this side of the refuge, the fog began to clear and sunshine broke through the clouds.

The early morning light was both a blessing and a curse, highlighting this Jackrabbit’s ears,

while casting nasty shadows in the background. The ISO for this shot was actually quite high, and the shot had to be pushed to make it this light.

Although much of the surroundings were in deep shadows, the early morning alpenglow made anything it hit seem even more beautiful than it might actually have been. Although most of this pheasant is in the shadows, the feathers in the sunlight could almost be gold.

A few minutes later and a half mile down the road, these Greater White-Fronted Geese seem quite striking to me.

I think the same can safely be said for this shot of a Snowy Egret stalking the drainage ditch that separates the road from the holding ponds.