Raptors at Sacramento and Colusa NWR

We saw a lot of raptors on our visit to Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges.  Not surprisingly, the most common were the Red-tailed Hawks, like this one sitting on a power pole just outside the Colusa NWR that Leslie snapped.          

It’s not clear why the electric company found it necessary to post the warning since very few birds can actually read English, and even those that can seem determined to ignore warnings. Nevertheless, the sign made me wonder what kind of danger the hawk was exposing itself to.  Apparently not too much because there was only a single line on that branch and a bird must touch two different lines simultaneously to be electrocuted.

Still, if I were a Red-Tailed hawk that could read, I would prefer the perch that this Red-tail chose. 

We actually saw a lot of Red-tails at the Sacramento NWR, and that me wonder what they feed on. From personal observations, I would have thought that rodents and snakes were their primary prey.  I was surprised to learn that birds are actually an important part of their diet. 

There seems to be some question about whether Vultures are raptors or not, but it’s convenient for me to place them here so I’m going to agree with those who argue that they are raptors.  I assume a lot of birds die over the winter which provides a steady diet for them, but I wondered what they were eating this time of year when the harsh weather is over.  I got a partial answer when I observed this Bald Eagle eating something on the ground while a vulture circled him on the ground.  When the Eagle had apparently had its fill, the vulture quickly moved in and started eating.  Judging from the number of white feathers we saw on the ground the vultures must have ample opportunity to feed on other birds’ kills.

We also saw several Northern Harriers, mostly in the distance and moving too fast to capture, but this one circled right back toward us making it possible to keep in frame.

It was my favorite shot of the day.

Black-necked Stilt

Where you find White-Faced Ibis you’re apt to find Black-necked Stilt and that was true on our latest visit, though there were a lot fewer Black-necked Stilts than there were White-faced Ibises.  We saw ibises in both the Sacramento and Colusa NWR, but we only saw a few stilts in one small area of the Sacramento NWR so I suspect the stilts haven’t started migrating yet.

There seemed to be two pairs of stilts, but they were rarely close enough to get a shot of two together. 

Either they were so accustomed to visitors or were so intent on finding food that they were indifferent to us and made it possible to get some nice photos.

I don’t think I’ve ever gotten closer to a Black-necked Stilt than I got to this one,

and this is one of my favorite shots ever

because it emphasizes the stilt’s delicate legs. 

White-Faced Ibis

Loved seeing all the geese and ducks at the Sacramento and Colusa  National Wildlife Refuge, but it was even more special seeing the White-Faced Ibis because we never see them in the Puget Sound area.  

Here in the West it’s nearly impossible to confuse the Ibis with any other bird, as they have a distinctive profile, particularly that long, curved beak

When seen through a telephoto lens or binoculars, they appear tall and lanky, 

so it always comes as a bit of a shock when you actually see them next to a Northern Pintail because it reminds you of how short they really are.

They’re deceptive in other ways, too.  Judging from the first two photos you’d probably think they’re a dull, green color (and they are in winter plumage), but they’re anything but dull when caught in the right light.

Unfortunately, despite a lot of shots, we never got a shot of a glowing, radiant White-Faced Ibis and had to settle for this shot of one with the sun coming from its left.

The photographer in me was definitely disappointed that we couldn’t capture one in better light, but the birder in me was still excited to see them at both refuges.

Lots of Ducks, Too

There were far more geese than ducks at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, but there was a wide variety of ducks.  The Cinnamon Teal is a beautiful duck I seldom see, so I was looking forward to seeing one at the refuge, though they refused to cooperate.  The only one I saw close-up had his head tucked under its wing and refused to budge the twenty minutes Leslie and I were taking pictures at the mid-way outlook.  In the end, I had to settle for this shot of one in the distance.

There were, however, several male Gadwalls, another duck I seldom see,  that seemed more willing to pose.  I’ve long admired their subtle beauty. 

It’s also been quite a while since I’ve seen Ring-Necked Ducks locally, but there were several at the refuge, including this pair.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t recognize this duck 

until I saw it swim away and it became obvious it was a male Green-winged Teal.

I usually see them at Theler Wetlands where we are looking down at them from the dike or the bridge and seldom see them from the front.

Ironically, my favorite duck shot of the day is this shot of a male Northern Pintail,

a duck we see quite often locally.  What makes it special is that the ponds at the Sacrament NWR are higher than the road you are driving on, which allows you to see them at eye level. At Theler I would have to lay down in the wetlands to get this angle.