Knowing that Modoc National Wildlife Refuge is a breeding ground for Greater Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis tabida) I wanted to get back up there to observe the adult’s behavior with their colts. I could hear a pair calling in the distance from the photo blind but in the tall grass they didn’t appear to be parenting any colts. So, after leaving the photo blind, I headed out on the auto tour route hoping to find some of the youngsters. Click on photos for full sized images.

As mentioned in the previous Modoc NWR post (part 1) this refuge has installed several nest boxes visible from the auto tour route which seem to house several pairs of Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor).

Tree Swallow

As I continued along the perimeter of Teal Pond and Upper Teal Pond (see map) I spotted several common bird species including this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) clinging to a cattail.

Song Sparrow

This refuge wisely supplies an ample parking area for auto tour visitors to stop and take a leisurely walk around the pair of Upper and Lower Wigeon ponds. This is where I caught my first glimpse of the Sandhill Crane colts.

Sandhill Crane with Colt

I grabbed my camera gear and, as soon as I got away from the parking area, I spotted a pair of colts foraging with their parents right along side of the walking path around Upper Wigeon pond. What a treat!

Sandhill Crane with Colt

Upper Wigeon Pond has its own photography blind, open to the public, right there on the South side of the pond. It has a paved entrance and is accessible by wheelchair.

Photo Blind at Upper Wigeon Pond

Making my way around the upper pond I crossed over to the lower pond where I spotted several shorebirds. The first shorebird that I encountered was this Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus).

Black-necked Stilt

There were also several American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana)…

American Avocet

One of my favorite shorebirds.

American Avocet

There were also several Wilson’s Phalaropes (Phalaropus tricolor) foraging in the shallows of Upper Wigeon Pond. Here you can see the circular water pattern surrounding this female.

Wilson's Phalarope

If you’ve never seen phalaropes feed it’s a real treat. These active birds pick small bits of food from the water’s surface. When swimming, they spin in tight circles and create upwellings of food to the surface.

This is the view of the blind across Upper Wigeon Pond from the path that transects the upper and lower ponds.

Wigeon Pond Photo Blind View

As I walked between the two ponds I could here some cranes calling nearby but couldn’t see them, until I came around a bend with a small rise and spotted two adults. I couldn’t understand why they were being so alarming. That’s when I saw something I had never seen before, a crane colt swimming. Its parents were coaxing it into a shallow cove around the corner.


As I headed back to the parking area there was a family of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) meandering across lower pond…

Canada Goose Family

and a Northern Shoveler drake (Anas clypeata) walking awkwardly across a small island.

Northern Shoveler Drake

Back on the auto tour route, heading toward the refuge headquarters, a male Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) made himself available for a photo.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Since I visited on the weekend I knew the refuge headquarters was closed, but the photo blind, auto tour route and walking trails are open from sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year.

Modoc NWR Headquarters

The headquarters is small but it displays a great variety of mounted specimens and educational tools.

Modoc NWR Visitors Center

I noticed there were Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) flying around the headquarter building when I parked…

Barn Swallow

and no wonder, they were nesting under the eaves.

Barn Swallow on Nest

If you’re ever in Northeastern California I encourage you to stop by Modoc National Wildlife Refuge. As I said, their auto tour route and walking trails are open from sunup ’til sundown, 365 days an year. You can see a list of their visitor activities here and check out their bird list here and mammal list here.

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