A Different Kind of Magic

Our second trip to the California Coast was to Shell Beach, about seven miles north of Doran Regional Park.  We did this on a previous hike with Jeff and Debbie, and I was hoping we would see the White-Tailed Kites we had seen then.  In anticipation I’d brought my 600mm lens with a 1.4 multiplier, my current favorite birding lens when I’m not shooting from the car or from my tripod.  In retrospect, I wish I had taken the 100mm-400mm lens, but wishing you had the “other” lens is common when taking photographs.  It’s about as helpful as wishing you were forty years younger and could carry two cameras.

You can’t take very good scenic photos with an 840 mm lens, so I did what I’ve done several times in the past, pulled out my iPhone 11 and took this shot.

It turned out better than I expected, though I’m sure it would have turned out better if I had brought my wide-angle lens for my Canon R5.  

This closeup was taken much further away with my Canon R5 and 600mm lens is sharper with more detail but doesn’t seem as “scenic” to me.

We only saw a few common birds, like this Savannah Sparrow.  

I did manage to get a shot of a Tiger Swallowtail, though, something I only see months later in the Puget Sound.

Shell beach is the main attraction on this section of the coastline, but these rocks are another attraction. They don’t look very big in a photo, but there were actually two climbers with ropes and harnesses scaling them.   They remind me of the Stonehenge replica that overlooks the Columbia River in Klickitat County, WA.  

In retrospect, I wondered if these rock formations had inspired someone to construct a small magical maze filled with various offerings mostly collected from nearby

with what appeared to be an abalone shell containing coins and a green piece of jewelry at the center of the maze.  

I really wish I had had a drone so that I could have gotten a shot of the whole maze with all the various offerings, but my iPhone had trouble getting a shot without my feet appearing in the middle of the picture.

At Doran Regional Park

Although Spring Lake has been my go-to place in Santa Rosa as long as I can remember, I always try to visit Bodega Bay at least once on our visit.  On this trip, we actually managed to get to parts of the beach three different times. 

On our first trip, Leslie and I visited Doran Regional Park and the weather was beautiful – pure sunshine. Plus, we were greeted by several large shorebirds (Willets, Godwits, and Whimbrels) that we haven’t seen in the Pacific Northwest for a while.  

We were greeted by a small flock of Willets

feeding along the shoreline. They generally ignored us as they fed, but occasionally flew up the beach, revealing beautiful wing patterns hidden from sight most of the time.

There were also a small number of Marbled Godwits mixed in with the Willets foraging in the surf.  

Apparently, Willets and Godwits eat similar foods, but it seems that the Godwit’s longer beak would certainly give it an advantage in deeper water.

Since I’ve seen Whimbrels in the past when I’ve seen Willets and Godwits, I kept my eyes open for one — and that’s how many I saw.  Just one.  Luckily, it totally ignored me 

and went about its business of finding a sand crab.

Walking the beach on a sunny morning is always a treat, but it’s even better when you’re accompanied by magnificent birds like this.

Spring Lake, Santa Rosa

I love a lot of places around Santa Rosa, but one place I never miss visiting is Lake Ralphine/Spring Lake and I’m never disappointed.  Not only is it a great walk after spending two days in the car, but I see lots of birds I seldom see, like this Great-Tailed Grackle                

that grabbed my attention, though I was really looking for the Acorn Woodpeckers I usually find here. As it turned out, Leslie spotted them high in a tree while I was distracted.

This tree was obviously a granary, so I assumed the woodpecker was either eating an acorn or stuffing one in for later.  

Turns out that these trees serve multiple purposes because as he flew away it became clear that this was a nesting site, though I think it was probably too early for youngsters.

I had to wait a while longer to get a better shot of an Acorn Woodpecker much closer to the ground.  Since this one seemed to be feeding on something that obviously wasn’t an acorn, that made me wonder what they do feed on.  Turns out acorns are only eaten in the winter when preferred foods aren’t available.  In Spring they eat insects and oak flowers and suck the sap out of shallow holes on trees.

I could have spent the day at Lake Ralphine taking pictures of the Acorn Woodpeckers, but I wouldn’t have gotten the exercise I wanted or seen this beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk we located between the two lakes

or this Hermit Thrush waiting for us on the trail around Spring Lake.

It would have been a great visit if Spring Lake hadn’t been nearly covered in aquatic weeds (which are naturally occurring and harmless to people and animals according to the local paper, as it turns out), but seeing the lake like that for the first time ever was shocking and slightly depressing, even if this Pied Grebe didn’t seem deterred from fishing.

Thankfully, we ended our visit at Lake Ralphine where the water seemed crystal clear as this pair of Common Mergansers floated by.

  I prefer to be left with that image than that of the aquatic weeds covering Spring Lake.  

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.