A Quick Stop at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

We finally managed to squeeze our long-delayed trip to Santa Rosa in between doctor appointments.  Though I knew most of the birds would have already left the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for their Spring destinations, I couldn’t resist staying over night and visiting early the next morning before heading out to Santa Rosa.

One of the neat things about birdwatching is that you usually see birds that you wouldn’t see very often, if at all,  where you live.  For example, we were greeted at the entrance by this Western Kingbird.

and by a chorus of Meadowlarks.

We didn’t have to drive much further before Leslie started spotting a Pheasant, a favorite of hers.

Heck, we even saw a small flock of American Avocets

on the backside of the refuge, and they’re one of my favorite  birds.  It was a great start to what turned out to be a great trip.  

Way Back Then

Our trip to Santa Rosa seems like a distant memory, but I realized yesterday that I still hadn’t unpacked my camera gear or downloaded the pictures we took at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge — probably because there really wasn’t any shots that I was in love with. I knew before we stopped that it was too early to see many birds, but I find it hard to drive past without stopping. We saw a lot of birds in the distance, like these Black-necked Stilt,

but the only birds we saw up-close and in large numbers was the Greater White-fronted Goose.

And this was the only shot that I really liked.

Unfortunately, we’ve been dealing with a family medical emergency and haven’t had time to get out birding and probably won’t manage to get out in the near future, either.

Moments like this remind us just how easy life normally have been since we’ve retired and will make us appreciate it once again when this crisis has passed. Until then, posts will continue to be reserved for moments like this when I’m sitting home waiting for a package to arrive so I can get back to doing what needs to be done.

Raptors at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

If you like raptors, this is the perfect time of the year to go birding. Not only are the raptors concentrated in areas where birds overwinter, but the lack of leaves makes it easier to see them. It was impossible to miss the many raptors, mostly Red-Tailed Hawks, at the Sacramento NWR.

Leslie took most of these shots with the little Canon SX 60HS and more often than not the light was behind the birds, which they seem to prefer. This one of the Red-Tail getting ready to take off was one of the better shots

as well as this shot of a very threatening looking Red-Tail.

I nearly missed the best shots of a raptor because I’d reset my camera’s shutter speed to get a shot of the hummingbirds at the feeder at the visitors’ center. Luckily I was shooting in RAW format and was able to push the exposure and get these shots of a Cooper’s Hawk that decided to come for a morning brunch at the feeders.

Despite its grizzly nature, I couldn’t help but snap shots of the Cooper’s Hawk feeding,

right down to the last feather.

It’s times like this I’m glad I shoot everything in RAW format. The shots would obviously have been better if the exposure had been correct, but they do a good job showing what the hawk actually looked like in the shadows.

Snow Geese

What first struck me when I first visited Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in 2011 was the sheer number of Snow Goose — thousands of them. I’ve never seen that many here again, including on this trip. Even though we were on the refuge at first light, most of the Snow Goose were already feeding in nearby fields. Luckily, there were still small flocks to photograph. When you only see a few geese, you tend to look at them more closely and notice things you hadn’t noticed before.

Snow Goose suggests “white” and that’s what I tend to see when I observe them in nature. These two are certainly “typical.”

I’m not sure I ever really noticed before, but almost every Snow Goose I saw on the refuge had a brown-tinged head.

I’m assuming that since the tinge on the head matches the ring around the bottom, that this is the result of rooting in the mud, not natural coloring.

When I first saw this juvenile Snow Goose, I thought perhaps it was a Blue Morph, but, no, this is a normal juvenile.

No wonder so many people have problems identifying birds when they go through transformations like this.

A few years ago I doubt I would have realized that these juvenile Snow Geese were Snow Geese at all.

If I had seen this juvenile by itself in a different location, I doubt I would have identified it as a Snow Goose,

especially because of the mottled breast.