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.  

Not Just Northern Shovelers

When I first visited the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge many years ago, I was enthralled by the sheer number of birds I saw there.  I’d never seen that many White-Fronted Geese, not to mention that many Snow Geese, in my entire life. Over the years, though, I’ve come to love the diversity found there more than the sheer number of birds. 

For instance, it’s been several years since I’ve seen a Ruddy Duck, particularly one with a blue bill, which they only have during breeding.  Most of the Ruddy Ducks we saw didn’t have blue beaks, but this one looks like it was just starting to change.  Unfortunately, he never raised his tail feathers straight up, another distinctive trait.

male Ruddy Duck

I see quite a few Buffleheads around home, but I couldn’t resist this good of a shot.

male Bufflehead

My favorite Puget Sound birding guide says that Cinnamon Teal are common,  particularly in sewage ponds, but I seldom frequent those so I don’t often see them. 

male Cinnamon Teal

Green-Winged Teal are common at Theler Wetlands but are too beautiful to ignore no matter where you find them.

two pairs of Green-Winged Teal

We also have Ringed-Necked Ducks in the Pacific Northwest, but I rarely see them, either.  I spotted a couple of male Ring-Necked Ducks, but they were too far away to get a decent shot, but these three females seemed indifferent to us. 

three female Ring-Necked Ducks

We were lucky enough to dodge California’s recent storms on most of our visit, and the blue skies added a flash of brilliance to the photos that has been hard to come by in the Pacific Northwest this winter. 

3000 Miles Later

Leslie and I just returned from our 3,000-mile, two-week trip to Arizona where we visited my brother Bill and his wife Alice and to California where we visited Leslie’s brother Jeff and his wife Debbie.  Of course, I wasn’t up to driving the 1,500 miles to Arizona in one day so we drove 642 miles to Willows, California, on our first day.  We probably could have made it to Phoenix in one more day, but I was beginning to stiffen up after 14 hours in the car. More importantly, the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge was just a few miles away, and I find it difficult to drive by without stopping — even if many of the birds had already left.

In previous years we’ve seen thousands of Snow Geese there, a magnificent sight.  We only saw hundreds of them on this visit. Because of the flooding, many of the geese still around were feeding outside the refuge. We did get to see several small flocks up close and personal, though.

Snow Geese On Road

The Snow Geese were obviously used to people, and as the car approached they took off but landed nearby, offering opportunities to catch them in flight, or, if your reflexes aren’t quite as sharp as they used to be, catch them landing

Snow Geese Landing

or take a shot of them as they serenely paddle away. 

Snow Geese on Water

The space vacated by the Snow Geese that had started migrating was apparently filled by large flocks of American Coots. Although seeing American Coot at the refuge is not unusual, I had never seen as many in earlier visits.

American Coot on Peninsula

Generally, I overlook American Coots paddling along in the water unless they happen to have a chick with them, but I’m always fascinated with their feet and red-eye when seen close-up on land.

American Coot

We also saw a huge number of Northern Shovelers on the refuge, again, far more than we have ever seen before.  Unfortunately, they don’t seem to flock together when they’re feeding so I had to settle for this shot of one feeding by itself.

Male Northern Shoveler

Our visit to the refuge wasn’t as memorable as many others, but it did seem special because it has been so long since we had traveled.  

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.