Northern Pintail Ducks and Greater White-fronted Geese

Usually this time of year the Sacramento NWR is dominated by Snow Geese, so we were surprised at how few we saw on our visit.  Luckily, there were still thousands of birds there.  So, Northern Pintails and Greater White-Fronted Geese took front stage on this visit.  This is my favorite shots of the two together.

I’m not about to claim that a particular duck’s plumage is more beautiful than all other ducks’ plumage, but the male Northern Pintail surely strikes me as the most elegant.

The Greater White-fronted Goose’s plumage, on the other hand, is delightfully understated.  

I guess when you are as big and powerful as they are, especially when they take flight 

that they don’t have to rely on fancy feathers to attract a mate.

Sacramento NWR

Usually on our visit to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge we are greeted by rabbits, deer, and coyotes.  On our most recent visit we were greeted by songbirds like this Meadowlark


and this Red-Wing Blackbird.

Try as they might, the two could not drown out the song of the White-Crowned Sparrows

though the immature sparrows seemed more interesting in foraging than in joining the choir around them.

The House Finches high in the trees weren’t exactly silent but weren’t nearly as loud as the other three,

while the Black Phoebes seemed satisfied to flutter out and back silently.

Disappointingly, there were surprisingly few Snow Geese and the birds seemed more easily spooked than usual, flying away before we could stop and get pictures.

Sacramento NWR’s Geese

Although I’ve never seen as many Snow Geese or Greater White-Fronted Geese at the Sacramento NWR as I did on my first visit several years ago, it is still impossible to photographically convey just how magnificent it is to see the sky filled with thousands of Snow Geese, especially when you’re limited by gray skies, but even in low light the camera does a better job than the human eye of freezing the action.

Luckily, it’s easier to set the camera on automatic and take shots of them when they’re standing safely on the other side of a pond.

Ideally, I think a good wildlife photographer strives not to disturb his subjects, but all too often the birds take flight when you point a camera at them, particularly during hunting season.

There aren’t nearly as many Greater White-fronted Geese as there are Snow Geese, and they seem to prefer smaller flocks.

Although they migrate to Canada and Alaska to breed, they seem to bypass Washington, which probably explains why I try harder to get pictures of them than the Snow Geese when I’m in California.

We stayed overnight in a nearby motel hoping the weather would be better the next morning before heading home.  Unfortunately, it only got worse. Not only was it cloudy and wet, but there were high winds, and high winds are seldom good for birding.  

Back to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

By the time we left the Merced National Wildlife Refuge the clouds had begun to move in, and they just kept getting heavier the further north we went.  By the time we finally reached the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the skies had already turned gray. With the next day’s forecast even worse, we made one trip around the preserve.

Luckily, there were lots of birds there,  especially the Snow Geese and the Greater White-Fronted Geese we had become accustomed to seeing here in the Fall.

The best pictures of the day were definitely ones where the birds were sitting relatively still, and luckily there were quite a few birds that were willing to do exactly that, like the Red-Tailed Hawk, 

this American Bittern who might have set a record for pretending not to be there, 

this American Pipit, 

and these notoriously hard-to-spot Great Horned Owls

Huge flocks of Snow Geese and Greater White-Fronted Geese may be the main attraction at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge this time of year, but seeing the unexpected certainly adds to the overall experience.