Big Birds, Little Birds, Birds Everywhere

Years ago on Leslie’s first visit to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, she spotted a tree full of vultures, something she had never seen before. Ever since she looks for them before we start the car tour.  A few were there again, though most of them were already out looking for a meal.  

Turkey Vulture

Vultures are much rarer than Red-Tailed Hawks, but I’ve gotten in the habit of looking for a hawk in one of the first trees you see after you have started the auto tour.  I’ve found hawks in the same tree as long as I can remember, and, for a change, it was sitting on branches on the road side of the tree rather than on the backside where it’s nearly impossible to get a good shot.  

Red-Tailed Hawk

We heard Meadowlarks singing almost as soon as we started the tour, some quite close, but the only shot we managed was this one which was far, far away. 

Meadowlark in the Distance

A recent news report that a Meadowlark was spotted at nearby Dunes Park reminded me that we’ve seen more Meadowlarks at the Sacramento NWR than anywhere else.

We don’t have Black Phoebe’s in the Puget Sound, either, so it was a treat seeing this one fly out and back repeatedly.  Unfortunately, the only time I managed to keep him in frame was when he was sitting on a branch.  

Black Phoebe in Tree

I’ve often seen flocks of Bush Tits at home, but it was still a treat when this male Bush Tit posed for us. 

Bush Tit

Big or small, you never know what you’ll see at the Sacramento NWR, but you can always count on seeing lots of amazing birds there.  

Great Egrets at the Santa Rosa Rookery

By far the largest bird in the Santa Rosa Rookery is the Great Egret, and I’ll have to admit — though I know better — that I am always surprised that a bird this large nests in a tree — even if it always seems to be a very tall tree.  

On this visit, one of the highest nests I saw was this Great Egret nest with two chicks.

Great Egret Chicks in nest

That seems like the most logical place for  Great Egrets to have nests since it is easier for them to fly in and out of the nest.

Great Egret leaving tree

However, not all Great Egrets nest at the top of the tree.  For instance, this Great Egret landed near the top but had to weave its way through some awfully tight spaces to reach its destination — 

Great Egret weaving through tree

three hungry chicks that flailed their wings as they mobbed the parent.

Egret Chicks jostling to get fed

So, I end up asking myself why did this egret build the nest so deep within the tree.  Do the dominant Great Egrets get to nest on the top of the tree?  Is it simply a matter of which egret started building a nest first?  Or is there an advantage to having a nest lower in the tree because it defers predators? 

I would love to visit Santa Rosa at the beginning of nesting and see which species start nesting first and where in the tree the first nests are built.  

Back to the Santa Rosa Rookery

Several years ago I discovered the Santa Rosa Rookery through Facebook entries, and I’ve tried to visit every time we’ve been in Santa Rosa during nesting season.  I thought that we might be too late to see anything on our recent visit, but I still drove over while Leslie and Paul were doing something else. 

As it turned out, most of the birds seemed to have already hatched and left the rookery, but there were still enough birds nesting that I spent over an hour trying to capture some shots.  

In previous years I tended to focus on the Night Herons, but I didn’t see a single Night Heron until the end of this visit.  The two juvenile night herons I saw weren’t even in the two main trees; they were on an adjacent tree.

juvenile Night Heron

The one on the left was certainly the more adventurous of the two and even spread its wings as if it was going to fly over to the other tree, but it never actually flew.  I only saw one adult Night Heron, and it was landing at the top of one of the two main trees, not where these juveniles were.

Night Heron landing in tree

I was surprised that the Night Heron landed there because I’d just spent twenty minutes or so looking for Night Heron chicks and hadn’t seen any (which apparently doesn’t mean that there weren’t any there). On previous visits, the Night Herons, Great Herons, and Snowy Egrets far outnumbered the Cattle Egret, but the opposite seemed true on this visit. 

I’ll have to admit that I have a hard time deciding whether a chick is a Great Egret, a Snowy Egret, or a Cattle Egret, but it’s easy to tell when there’s an adult Cattle Egret in the nest like this.

Cattle Egret with chicks

These four chicks look a lot like those in the above shot and they were lower in the tree than Great Egret chicks I could positively identify, so I’m assuming these were Cattle Egret juveniles (particularly since there is an orange cast to the one trying to fly).  

juvenile Cattle Egret

I’m less sure that these even younger chicks are Cattle Egret, but they don’t look like Great Egret chicks to me and I mostly saw adult Cattle Egret landing and flying nearby.

heron chicks

I’ve seen several rookeries since I started birding, but the Santa Rosa Rookery is the only one where I’ve seen such an amazing variety of herons nesting together.  

Our Last Day in Colorado

On our last day in Colorado Jen and the kids were busy getting ready for their upcoming trip to Puerto Rico, so Tyson took us on a much-needed walk before we started our long drive to Santa Rosa.  There weren’t quite as many birds as we had seen on previous walks, but I managed to get a  nice shot of a Northern Flicker marching across the field

Northern Flicker

and of a Great Blue Heron dining on frog legs.

Great Blue Heron eating frog

With few birds in sight, I shifted my attention to the nearby flora and was delighted by the many flowers along the trail, particularly since I had no idea what they might be.

The only one that looked familiar was this one, which looked like a dandelion.  I’m not sure it really is a dandelion, though.  If it is, Colorado produces much bigger dandelions than the  Pacific Northwest does.

We’ve gone to Colorado so often in the last twenty years that it seems quite familiar, but it only takes a short walk to realize that there’s still much we don’t know about it. Of course, the same could be true of Theler Wetlands which we walk much more often.