Another Short Visit to the Sacramento NWR

We didn’t see too many birds on our second visit to Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge that we hadn’t seen on our previous stop nearly two weeks earlier.  

One exception was this male Blue-winged Teal, apparently a common bird I seldom see.        

male Blue-winged Teal

I’ve seen one in Washington and a few in Colorado, but I’ve never managed this good of a shot of one. When I have seen them they’re usually in the reeds, not in the open like this, and, sure enough, this little guy headed straight for the reeds where his mate was already feeding as soon as I pointed a camera at him.

Blue-winged Teal Pair

We saw quite a few White-faced Ibis on our trip, but the alpenglow emphasized this one’s brilliant, breeding colors.

White-faced Ibis

The biggest disappointment of the day, and the entire trip, for that matter, was a lack of American Avocets.  We only saw two avocets on the entire trip.  The last bird I saw on this trip was this American Avocet:

American Avocet with intermediate plumage

To make matters worse the sun was quickly fading below the horizon, and it’s clear that this bird was in the middle of changing into breeding plumage.  

With thousands of photos waiting to be edited and very few different birds to be seen, we decided to continue driving home rather than spending the night and making another trip the next morning.  

After another night at a motel and too many hours behind the wheel, I even decided to skip our trip to Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge the next morning, knowing that I would be able to visit a week later when I had a dentist appointment. 

I’ve been waiting too long for a trip like this.  It was a great trip, but two weeks is about as long as I want to be away from home, and 3,000 miles of driving takes its own toll when you’re as old as I am.  

Choices, Choices, Choices

Although I occasionally veer off topic and mention/discuss photographic choices I have made in a particular photo, most of the time I’m the only one who knows the decisions I have made in order to produce a photo that I posted and a good part of the time I’m not even aware of how the choices I have made have affected the picture. 

Although some trips have to be planned out, most of the time I’m just freelancing because that is my preferred mode in retirement.  We get up, look outside, and decide what to do.  Sometimes, though, you must account for the time of day or tide if you hope to see birds.  Sometimes birds only show up on an incoming tide, other birds only show up on an outgoing tide.  You don’t have a lot of control in those kind of situations.

You do get to decide which camera(s) you take with you.  Usually I carry my new Canon EOS R5 with a 600mm fixed lens with a 1.4 multiplier because it is lighter than my other choices and still makes it possible to get good shots at a distance.  If I anticipate being close to the birds, though, I will often take my older EOS 7D with a 100-400 mm zoom lens which I think still takes slightly sharper images than my R5 and is more versatile in taking close-ups than the 600 mm fixed lens.   On our trip to Arizona, I took both because Leslie takes shots out of one side of the car and I take shots out of the other.

Leslie prefers the R5 because it’s considerably lighter, so she was using it when we stopped at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  She took a shot of this Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

and this Great Egret with the 840 mm lens.

Great Egret

They’re both good pictures and she was lucky enough to have alpenglow lighting to make them even better. 

I knew from past experience, though, that she was probably missing the best part of this scene because the telephoto limits how much of a scene you can take in.  I handed her the camera with a 100-400mm zoom lens and told her to take pictures with it.

This shot was taken at approximately 400mm,

Great Egret


Great Egret next to splashing water

and 100mm.  

Usually I shoot for a shot like the first one of the Great Egret taken with the 840 mm lens because it emphasizes the bird, but in this case, I far prefer the last shot— the one taken with the 100mm. For one thing, I have never seen that much water running off from the fields that adjoin the auto tour.  It sort of symbolized how much water we had to deal with on this trip, constantly seeing what areas were flooded and what roads were closed. 

Actually, I like all the shots, probably because we were late getting to the refuge and the sun was beginning to set so the light was particularly warm but still bright. Fifteen minutes later the shots I took a 1/4 mile further on the route were underexposed. We were just lucky that the light was nearly perfect at this precise moment. 

Back to Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

As it turned out, the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge was the last stop of our trip, other than restaurants and a motel. It was wonderfully sunny when we arrived, but getting dark by the time we left.  As Pat Wolfe noted in a recent comment, capturing light is a critical part of photography, and the light was almost magical at the beginning. Leslie managed to get some good shots before we even started the auto tour.  

We saw Black-necked Stilts everywhere we went in California and got some great closeups at Merced, but I love this shot of one searching for food in a shallow pond.

Black-necked Stilt in Wetlands

I like how this Killdeer’s black and white plumage sharply stands out among the brown, blurred, dried-out grass as if in a spotlight,


and the same can be said for the black plumage with purple highlights of this Brewer’s Blackbird.

Brewer’s Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbirds often seem a dull brown, but the late-afternoon sun highlighted the gold streaks in this one’s plumage.  

female Red-winged Blackbird

We didn’t see a lot of birds that we didn’t already have hundreds of pictures of from previous stops on this trip, but I’m always awed and humbled when I visit a magical place like this.

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.  

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