Snow Geese

Despite their austere appearance, the wetlands of the Sacramento NWR are a bountiful place. It was the huge flocks of Snow Geese that impressed me on my first visit there in November. When Leslie and I toured the refuge on Thursday afternoon there were few to be seen, but when we returned the next morning it looked like it had snowed overnight there were so many geese.

There’s not a wide-angle lens made that could have captured the number of snow geese we saw.

Flock of Snow Geese

As morning wore on, flocks left to feed in nearby fields,

Snow Geese Flying

but always seemed to return to the wetlands.

Snow Goose

I suspect that there’s not enough food in the refuge for so many geese so they’re forced to go elsewhere to feed, but return to the safety of the wetlands after feeding. Luckily for visitors like myself, they seem secure enough here that it’s possible to get closeups of them.

Snow Goose

It’s amazing that these huge flocks will soon return to the Arctic tundra to breed. Thank goodness for places like this that offer the food and rest they need to make that journey.

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Although I’ve been an avid environmentalist most of my life, like most people I have overlooked the value, not to mention the beauty, of wetlands until recently. I only discovered Malheur national wildlife refuge two years ago even though I drove by it eight years ago before taking up birding.

I must have driven by the Sacramento national wildlife refuge for nearly 15 years without ever noticing it. In fact, Leslie and I tried to avoid the area because it seemed so bleak, and hot. Instead, we drove a longer route through the Redwoods because it was more “scenic.”

Of course, I discovered both of these places because I took up birding and because they are both “hotspots” for birds at different times of the year. However, after taking the Open University course entitled “Ecosystems” and, in particular, the unit on Wicken Fen I’m even more aware of the significance of wetlands. Wetlands support greater biodiversity than almost any place on earth.

In the most real sense, then, places like The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge might well be the most beautiful places on earth, even if that beauty seems like a rather austere beauty on the surface.

Coming from Western Washington, I think the flatness of the Sacramento NWR made the biggest impression on me in my two recent visits.

The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Of course, as the name suggests, it’s really water that is the most important element, and this time of year, at least, even the trees are often submerged.

The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

The dominant feature, though, at least visually are the reeds that seem to make up most of the lakes.

The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

It’s easy to assume that some of the bodies of water are quite deep as they look like the lakes where I live,

The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

but that’s a questionable assumption because you’ll often see Black-Necked Stilts wading through the same water that ducks seem to be floating on.

Black-Necked Stilts

It’s too easy to focus on the beauty of wetland residents and miss the beauty of the wetlands themselves, but that would be a mistake.

Leslie’s Photographs

One thing I have learned while birding is that it’s helpful to have as many eyes as possible looking for birds. I have also learned that birds often appear on both sides of the car while driving through wildlife refuges, and more often than not I missed any shot that appears on the right side of the car when I’m driving.

Knowing that, I set Leslie up with my backup camera and a 400 mm lens when we toured the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. And sure enough, she got several great shots. I was almost jealous when she spotted this Snowy Egret down a ravine on her side of the car.

Snowy Egret

She actually got shots of this Great Blue Heron both days we were there, but I thought this was the best shot.

Great Blue Heron

She probably tried the hardest to get a shot of the elusive pheasants, this being the best of several that she shot.


I have no doubt, though, that this shot of a White-Faced Ibis was her best shot, and one of the best shots we got during the entire trip


White-Faced Ibis

Good thing she doesn’t have access to my main birding camera and lens or I might have trouble keeping up.


I’ve been working, at least intermittently, to organize the shots I took in my recent trip to California. I started with a little over 1000 shots and now have it narrowed down to just slightly over 600 shots. It has taken me nearly 6 hours to narrow them down so far, but the hardest part is still to come as I continue to cut all but the best shots.

So, the shots I presented yesterday and today are placeholders, as it were. They are shots I liked, but are not necessarily the best shots from the seven days.

I took this series of shots on the first day at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Although I was focusing on the geese, ducks, and raptors in the distance, I happened to look down and notice this small little bird ducking in and out of the vegetation right outside my window.

I’m not positive what it is but I think it’s a variant of the Savannah Sparrow.


As I was watching the sparrow, I noticed a similar bird a short distance away. At first I thought it was the same species, but as we drove closer it became obvious that this bird was much larger and had more yellow on its head and breast.


It didn’t take long to realize it was definitely a different species. It wasn’t until I got a little closer and the bird looked up from its foraging, however, that I realized exactly what it was.


although it took me much longer to remember it’s Name.

I’d gotten my best pictures of meadowlarks in Colorado, but I’d never gotten this close, especially with my 500mm lens. I liked this shot because it was the first time I’d ever noticed eyelashes on a bird before.


Leslie and I were amazed at the flocks of meadowlarks we saw during the two days we were at the Sacramento NWR.