Fall Migration at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

by Larry Jordan on November 1, 2009

Northern Pintails In Flight photos by Larry Jordan

Remember last week I told you that I had reserved a photo blind at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge?  There were hundreds of Northern Pintail ducks at the refuge and after spending hours in the blind waiting for birds to come a little closer, I decided to work on “in flight” photos.  But let’s start at the beginning of the day.

Before day break I was greeted by a couple of Great Horned Owls hooting from the trees as I walked toward the blind.  I caught the outline of one of them high up in a tree just before leaving the road to walk the shallow water pathway to my hide.

It was a beautiful, sunny and cool morning with a slight breeze, blowing in from the North.  I could see scores of Greater White-fronted Geese, White-faced Ibis, Black-necked Stilts, various ducks and even some Herring Gulls in the distance but the only birds that decided to come in close to the snag and the logs placed near the blind by the refuge staff were this Brewer’s Blackbird, a few Red-winged Blackbirds and a Black Phoebe that kept me company for awhile.

There were many Greater White-fronted Geese and ducks by the score.  As time passed, the birds began coming closer to the blind and eventually I got some chances a the Black-necked Stilts that were feeding in the shallows.  There were adults and juveniles and I enjoyed watching them weave between the slumbering ducks.

There was a Northern Harrier cruising over the marshes giving me good looks through the bins as she dropped down into the thick bulrushes; then fly back up, still looking for some delicacy.  She was too far off for a decent photo however.

Then, all of a sudden, the birds began squawking and on cue, leaped into flight en masse.  I also was alerted as a pair of Red-tailed Hawks flew right over the blind (from behind) giving me no time to reset the camera for photo ops.

This is what prompted me to begin looking for “in flight” opportunities, and there were many.  As I said, Greater White-fronted Geese were plentiful

and there were GadwallNorthern ShovelersAmerican Wigeonand Cinnamon Teal.

There were also Ring-necked Ducks flying in and these Long-billed Dowitchers I spotted on the way out, feeding with the Black-necked Stilts.

I left the blind before noon as the wind picked up and the birds settled down.  Off the back of the observation platform I spotted a Yellow-rumped Warbler

Then, heading back toward the visitor’s center, I passed a Red-tailed Hawk and this Red-shouldered Hawk that was hiding from the wind.

Heading down the backstretch of the refuge there are several huge ponds where the Snow Geese were hanging out with still more Greater White-fronted Geese.  As I stopped to study the flocks briefly, looking for the odd Ross’s or Blue Goose or maybe a Eurasian Wigeon, on some signal unknown to me, the flocks of hundreds sprang into the air and began swirling around the ponds.

I watched as an immature Bald Eagle flew through the crowd and landed something in the tall grass for lunch.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Mick November 2, 2009 at 12:34 am

That sounds like a fantastic day and you have some magnificent photos to remember it by. I especially like the photo of the stilt with its wings partly extended.
.-= Mick´s last blog ..Juvenile Noisy Friarbirds =-.


Klaus November 2, 2009 at 4:17 am

Wow – you got a great loot there! Great images, Larry!


Amy November 2, 2009 at 7:58 am

Great photos! I especially love the ducks in flight, well done. Your mention of photo blinds at a NWR interest me. I have a pet peeve about the lack of blinds or hides in the US versus what I was used to in Europe. Are the ones at Sacramento so small to only hold one person, or do you reserve a seat in a larger blind?
.-= Amy´s last blog ..BPW: Ring-billed Gull =-.


bob k November 2, 2009 at 9:08 am

I love those ducks in flight photographs, Larry! You must be having a grand time over there.
.-= bob k´s last blog ..Hasta la Vista, Baby! =-.


Monika Wieland November 2, 2009 at 10:13 am

I’ve never tried reserving a bird blind so thanks for sharing your experience and your photos. My favorites are the ducks in flight – its not something you get a chance to capture very often, unless maybe they’re flying AWAY from you! Good stuff.
.-= Monika Wieland´s last blog ..Insect IDs =-.


Neil November 2, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Great post would like to know more about the type of bird blind.
.-= Neil´s last blog ..Birds in Black =-.


Amber Coakley November 2, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Hi Larry,
I had my first experience in a bird blind this past weekend. I didn’t have to pay for it or even share it. However, I only lasted about 10 minutes in there – I really like being able to see the nature all around me, and I felt cutoff from the outdoors. I understand the lure of the bird blind for photography – but I guess its not for me. That said – your photos sure turned out nice. Sounds like you had a great day!
.-= Amber Coakley´s last blog ..ID Challenge – November, 2009 =-.


Eileen November 3, 2009 at 1:38 am

It looks like you had an awesome day at the refuge. I love all the ducks in flight. My favorite duck is the Americna Wigeon. The Hawk is a great shot and the Black Phoebe would a newbie for me.
.-= Eileen´s last blog ..Eastern Bluebirds for Mosaic Monday =-.


chris November 4, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Hi Larry,
wow the number of species is very impressive during this migration. I love the northern pintail shot, cause it is hard to get them over here, but you got a lot of very nice pictures!
.-= chris´s last blog ..Bird at Ulfarsa. =-.


sandeep November 5, 2009 at 1:51 am

nice pictures … especially the in-flight ones
.-= sandeep´s last blog ..Playing hide and seek @ Somnathpur =-.


Kelly November 5, 2009 at 12:58 pm

I love all your flight photos…..you definitely hit the jackpot. It’s cool you can reserve a bird blind! Your photo of the Black Phoebe melts my heart and the Widgeons are gorgeous too (they all are)!
.-= Kelly´s last blog ..A Northern Flicker munching on Poison Ivy berries… =-.


dreamfalcon November 8, 2009 at 2:16 am

Thank you for sharing, great pictures!
.-= dreamfalcon´s last blog ..birding at Klingnauer Stausee =-.


Dawn Fine November 8, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Awesome photos..I cant wait to see this place and the birds! Arriving in Sacramento tomorrow..might check it out.
.-= Dawn Fine´s last blog ..Matsutake Mania =-.


Scott November 10, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Love the pintails in flight photo (and others). I’ve been back a number of times specifically to take a look again. The pic is so serene.

Looking forward to the BwBTC trip.
.-= Scott´s last blog ..Burrowing Owls Make Front Page News =-.


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