A Last Look at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

If I haven’t already convinced you that you need to visit the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, I’m probably never going to, but here’s a final attempt to show what a magical place it is, no matter what your favorite birds are.

Although I usually think of geese when I’m looking forward to a visit, I’m always pleasantly surprised when we are invariably greeted by Meadowlarks singing, even if I can’t always manage to see them singing.

Meadowlarks are rare in the Puget Sound Area, so it’s exciting just to spot one, even when I can’t get as striking of a photo as I’ve captured here in the past.

Black Phoebe’s are another bird we don’t see in the Puget Sound. They’re hard to miss as they fly out from branches to catch insects, but it’s much easier to capture them when sitting on a branch than flying out.

I used to occasionally see Pheasants at Theler Wetlands, but I haven’t seen one there in years.  Leslie, who captured this shot, is always on the lookout for them when we are here.  

She outdid herself with this shot.

American Pipits are common in our area, but somehow I miss seeing them, perhaps because I confuse them with the more common Robin and never really look at them closely enough.

Yellowlegs certainly aren’t rare in the PNW, but they are seldom seen as close as they were here.

I seem to see Killdeer everywhere I travel, but I still can’t resist taking a good shot of them when I see them.

I have nearly as many shots of Marsh Wrens as I do of Great Blue Heron, but it’s impossible to ignore one when it’s singing its heart out a few feet away.

I often say that I’m not really a “birder” because I don’t chase birds.  I don’t go to places looking for specific birds; I go to places that are magical,  so full of life that they make me feel more alive when I’m there.  The Sacramento Wildlife Refuge is definitely one of those places for me.  Of course, the Redwoods, our other route to Santa Rosa, is also one of those places, but that’s another post.

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.