You See What You See

Whenever I recommend a birding site to someone, I try to describe what they MIGHT see, depending on when they visit.  I also warn that they will probably see different birds (or no birds) at different times of the day or the year.

Truthfully, even two birders riding together in a car looking out different windows are likely to see different birds or animals than the person they’re riding next to.  For instance, on our visit to Colusa I got this shot of a White-Faced Ibis that Leslie didn’t see.

Right around the corner she got a shot of a Double-Crested Cormorant in breeding colors that I never spotted.

I got a shot of a Great Egret fluffing its feathers, 

and she got a shot of two Wild Turkeys.

I couldn’t miss seeing the large Night Heron Rookery, but only Leslie could actually take pictures of it since it’s nearly impossible to hand-hold a 400 mm lens while pointing it out the opposite car window.

But that was okay because Leslie didn’t get to see the little Pied-Billed Grebe that popped up on my side of the car.

You never really know what you’re going to see while birding, but I do know that you never see the birds we saw at Colusa NWR while sitting at home on the couch.

Colusa Ducks

When trying to identify ducks while birding it sometimes seem impossible to identify female ducks unless there is a male nearby. In a pond with thousands of ducks I would have had a hard time identifying the duck on the right in this photo (of course, it doesn’t help that I was so busy focusing on the male on the left that the female is slightly out-of-focus.) With the male in the picture, though, it’s pretty clear that the duck is a female Widgeon.

The same goes for these Cinnamon Teal

where the male is instantly recognizable by its bright color.

By herself, I would have a hard time telling whether this duck was a female Mallard, Widgeon, Gadwall, or Northern Pintail.

Once you notice that she is followed by this gorgeous male Northern Pintail, it’s much easier to see the silhouettes of the two are quite similar — except for the pintail, of course.

The same holds true with this pair of Gadwalls,

though the male looks so similar to the female that I often overlook it in a large flock of ducks.

Still, its subtle colors and refined beauty make it easily distinguishable from any other duck I know.

Colusa National Wildlife Refuge

When we got to the Colusa NWR we knew where all the Snow Geese we expected to see at the Sacramento NWR were — though we still didn’t know why they had shifted to this refuge. 

Not only were there hundreds, if not thousands of Snow Geese, but they got closer at Colusa than I’ve ever gotten at Sacramento. As a result, I got a lot more pictures of Snow Geese

flying than I’ve ever gotten before.

The hard part was sorting through all the photos I took and deciding which ones I liked best.  In the end, my choices seemed pretty arbitrary because they were all pretty good. 

I chose this shot simply because there were two geese, not one like the previous picture.

The only problem I had getting shots of the Snow Geese landing was trying to make sure that my camera didn’t suddenly shift focus to one of the many geese and ducks sitting on the pond.

I ended up with several out-of-focus shots, but it didn’t seem to matter when I had so many other pictures that were tack sharp.

The only downside of a day like this is I might not ever be able to get a better shot of Snow Geese.

Odds and Evens

Although the sheer number of birds found at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge makes the biggest impression on visitors, I’m always amazed at how many different species can be found throughout the year, species I rarely see elsewhere.

Hidden behind all the Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and Greater White-Fronted Geese were at least three pairs of Ringed-Neck Ducks, 

a Cowbird, which Leslie shot,

a small flock of Lesser Goldfinch, a first for me,

and several Black-necked Stilts (another of Leslie’s shots).

Of course, we also saw other birds like Dowitchers, Yellowlegs, etc., but I want to move on to the second part of the day — tomorrow.