Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

I must have driven by the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge twenty times or so since I’ve taken up birdwatching because it is such a long drive home from Santa Rosa and I’m generally in a rush. I nearly did that on this trip too, but since I was alone I decided to stop and check it out, figuring that, if need be, I could spend the night nearby.

I’m certainly glad I did, and I’m sure I’ll be stopping by many more times in the future.

I saw a number of birds that I’ve seen before, but rarely. Although the great egret is becoming more and more common in the Pacific Northwest, I very seldom see a Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

which has always seemed the more elegant of the two egrets we see regularly.

I also enjoyed seeing this male Gadwall,

male Gadwall

and several Northern Pintails.

Northern Pintail Taking Off

I’ve only seen one other Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

and that was in the middle of a rainstorm in Malheur. Unfortunately it wasn’t in breeding colors. Although it’s the most common grebe in America, the Pacific Northwest appears to be outside its normal range.

Southern California Transition

I purposely avoided making definite plans on my Colorado trip. I wanted to let the road take me where it wanted to go. In retrospect, of course, I obviously had some ulterior motives for where I went. I’ve wanted to see Barstow and Fort Irwin again for a long time. After nearly 50 years, my memories of Fort Irwin are blurred, and I thought driving through the Mojave Desert might bring back memories.

If it had been the same as it was when I was there, perhaps it would’ve done so. But it didn’t take too long to realize that the area was so changed that any memories I had were long since erased. Los Angeles and Riverside are barely separated from Victorville and Barstow.

Although cactus like this


evoked memories of desert maneuvers, the sense of isolation I felt being stationed at Fort Irwin is long gone.

The passes just south of Bakersfield still hold some of the beauty that drew me to them in the 60s,

Mountains and Desert

but the town itself has grown immensely and the air seems as befouled as the air was in LA in the early 60’s. I didn’t even recognize the town or the bars where I went to dance and drink the night away. I’m afraid that I didn’t rekindle any love for the area.

That is not to say I didn’t do much soul-searching on this trip. Even with the radio cranked up, hurtling through darkness for 3000 miles leaves plenty of time for thinking, and it’s hard to drive that far without finding ample evidence to question much of what you think you have learned and what you believe


My tour in the Army took me to many places in this country I’d never seen before. I was deeply shaken, for instance, by the poverty I saw in the deep South because that poverty was so visible. It was only after the war, working as a case worker, that I realized that poverty wasn’t too different from the poverty in my own state.

Once again, I saw that kind of grinding poverty in rural areas in New Mexico, Arizona and California on this trip, all the more obvious because of the magnificent vacation homes not too far away, at least not too far away when you’re hurdling down the road at 75 mph. It was impossible not to relate that poverty to the Occupy Wall Street movement, though I doubt conservative voters in those states would make the same connection.

It’s one thing to set out to experience the Natural Beauty of the Western states. It’s something quite different to visit those states and experience Reality.

Thank goodness for Santa Rosa, the land of endless summers, and for the beautiful flowers in Mary’s backyard.


Sometimes escaping reality is as important as facing it. After a day’s rest, I was ready to set off for home with renewed energy, not realizing that the best birding of the trip was waiting just a few miles up the road.

Cactus Wren

I seldom can pick a single shot that is my “favorite”. Heck, I find it difficult just to decide which shots to keep and which to trash.

That said, this shot of a Cactus Wren that I took at a rest stop just as I was about to leave Arizona would have to be one of my favorites from this trip:

Cactus Wren

Part of what made it so special is that I didn’t have to do a thing to get it. The little guy just flew up as I pulled in and posed for me for nearly 10 minutes as I took shots.

Even the red trashcan in the background, fit in well with the late evening sun that gives him a reddish cast.

All in all, I considered a blessing that I was so tired at 4:30 in the afternoon that I needed to stop and take a nap.

It was also at this rest stop that I bought the only memento of this trip, this Navajo pot.

Navajo Pot

Normally, I wouldn’t even consider buying something at a rest stop, but these were clearly two local Navajo Indians, it was the end of the day, and I really like their artwork.

Unfortunately, I had nearly run out of cash after nine days on the road so I didn’t have the $45 they were asking. I considered it a great buy at $45, but since I had no idea if I’d every get back they told me they would accept $40 for it, leaving me with three dollars for dinner.

Talk about starving for art.

Birding Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve

Although the main purpose of my recent trip was to see my kids and grandkids in Colorado while avoiding flying, I nearly doubled the mileage by extending the trip into New Mexico and Arizona. I’d heard so much about the great birding in Southeast Arizona that I couldn’t resist the temptation of trying it myself. Turns out, it really isn’t the best time to go.

One of the premier birding areas in Southeast Arizona is The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia Sonoita Creek Preserve and I managed to spend over half a day there.

Ironically, I saw my best birds just outside the preserve. One of my target birds was the Northern Cardinal, which I never did see. However, I was excited to see this


Pyrrhuloxia, a member of the cardinal family I’d never even heard of before.

I was nearly as excited to see a group of these striking Lark Sparrows

Lark Sparrow

flitting back and forth in the same foliage. I was so fascinated by these little guys that I totally lost track of the Pyrrhuloxia.

Birding on the preserve itself was quite slow, though I talked to people who’d been there during the Spring Migration and said they’d seen 150 species in one day.

The only new species I saw on the preserve itself was this Gila Woodpecker.

female Gila Woodpecker

The dominant feature of the preserve the day I was there was the large number of grasshoppers, perhaps the biggest grasshoppers I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a grasshopper quite like this one:


The preserve certainly seemed like an ideal habitat for birds, and I’ve been birding long enough to know that birds are where you find them. Hopefully I’ll find more the next time I’m there.

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