Last weekend I reserved a photo blind (hide as it’s called across the pond) and got some pretty good photographs and also counted birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count 2011 (see previous post).
There are two blinds at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and one each at Delevan NWR and Colusa NWR. The blinds are all of similar size and functionality as you can see on their blind description webpage. Blind #1 is pictured above (click on all photos for full sized images).
According to their website, the “Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex consists of five national wildlife refuges (NWR) and three wildlife management areas (WMA) that comprise over 35,000 acres of wetlands and uplands in the Sacramento Valley of California. In addition, there are over 30,000 acres of conservation easements in the Complex. The Refuges and easements are part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; they serve as resting and feeding areas for nearly half the migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway.”
I believe them when they say that nearly half of the migratory birds on the flyway visit the refuge. Here’s a photo of probably 30 or 40 acres chock full of Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) that I probably underestimated on my GBBC as 6,500 birds. What do you think?
I was able to find a few “Blue Geese” or dark morph Snow Geese as well as the white morph shown here.
The reddish brown off-color of the head feathers is due to the stains the feathers acquire after digging through the mud for long periods of time
I saw hundreds of Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons) and probably underestimated their numbers also.
Then there were the ducks. I don’t know about you, but I find it a bit challenging to identify female ducks. A birding buddy of mine gave me a hint on how to ID females when I asked him he said, “just take a look at the male she’s hanging around with.” This is great advise this time of year when they are pairing up.
Here are some couples, starting with the more obvious Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) drake and his mate
Followed be the ever present Northern Pintail (Anas acuta).
There were several Gadwall (Anas strepera)
And a few American Wigeon (Anas americana)
You can see in-flight photos of these ducks in this older post.
There were several hundred American White Pelicans (Pelicanus erythrorhynchos) flushed from one of the ponds, some of them circling around and lighting back in the pond and some that took a different path and flew close enough for me to practice my in-flight digiscoping skills. This was the best in-flight shot I had this day with the scope.
My favorite shots from the blind however, were the Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) that visited the snag you see in the photo of the blind above.
I had a group of Tree Swallows visit this snag on my first visit to this blind back in March of 2009 (you can see some of those images on this flickr page). They exhibited the same behavior that appeared to be mock fighting or pairing behavior. This photo shows two birds with mouths agape, one stationary on the snag and the other flying in.
This is many times followed by what would appear to be a food exchange if it were an adult feeding young. I am inclined to think it is some kind of pairing behavior but I have found nothing in the literature on this behavior. If anyone knows what this might be, please enlighten us all by leaving a comment.
Leaving the blind for the auto tour around noon, I took a few more photos while completing my trip.
There is a Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) that can sometimes be found at the far end of the auto loop, just before you turn back to head to the visitor center. There is a dam on the creek there that seems to be a good place to catch fish.
Here is a video of the bird catching a fish from the creek
You can always find raptors in the cottonwoods on the edges of the refuge and this day was no exception. After all, what would a day of birding be without seeing a raptor?
I took some shots of this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) as it looked over the refuge.
Finally, on the way out, a truck stopped in front of me and was looking down a long stretch of grass along the irrigation canal by the road. I looked to my left to see two Ring-necked Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) chasing each other up and down this pathway. The pheasants scared up an American Bittern that was in the canal but I was unable to get my lens on it before it dove back into the bulrush.
I did get some photos of the Ring-necked Pheasants though, as they engaged in what appeared to be a cock fight. I’m not sure if it was real or play (I’m thinking play), but they put on a great show.
The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, and the entire refuge system, has got to be one of the premiere places in California to bird in the late fall, winter and spring. If you visit California when the refuge is flooded, you are sure to see a myriad of avifauna.