I spent New Years Day at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and what a glorious day it was! I had reserved photo blind #1 which is located near the refuge’s south side of the auto loop. The morning began at sunrise with large groups of Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons) flying in all around the blind. Click on photos for full sized images.
The other goose most commonly seen this time of year at the refuge is the Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens), which is the most abundant goose found in the refuge complex during the winter months.
Traveling with the Snow Goose is the more diminutive and less abundant Ross’s Goose (Chen rossi), seen here surrounded by its larger cousin.
Then there is the “Blue Goose” which is actually the dark-morph of the Snow Goose which were considered a separate species until 1983.
This photo shows how different the dark-morph and light-morph look from below.
A tree snag, logs and islands offer places for birds to perch, rest and preen near all of the the available refuge photo blinds. Although a Red-shouldered Hawk made a brief appearance on the snag, I was not quick enough to get a photograph of it. The snags often enjoy visits from Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and Red-tailed Hawk, but alas, not this day.
Other visitors to the blind snag include Red-winged Blackbird, Tree Swallow, and often Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans). I caught this phoebe on the snag, hunting arthropods against the azure sky.
American Coots and several species of duck will take to the logs placed around the blind. They are also enticing to sparrows, Brewer’s Blackbird and American Pipit (Anthus rubescens).
A small flock of Dunlin flash white, then disappear as they bank in the distance, then flash white again, and a pair of Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) fly into view and begin foraging.
They stop to preen in the shallows in front of the geese.
There were several dabbling ducks foraging in the area as well. I spotted Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Mallard and Northern Pintail, of course. There were also a surprising number of American Wigeon (Anas americana) but I found no Eurasian Wigeon in the mix.
Leaving the blind, I headed back to my car to see what treasures awaited me on the auto loop. I came across a Marsh Wren, not yet ready to begin nest building, and this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) clinging to a reed.
The six mile auto tour that begins at the refuge visitor center takes you through wetlands, grasslands, vernal pools and a riparian area.
Waterfowl can be viewed in many locations from the comfort of your own vehicle. I photographed this Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) drake from the car, foraging next to the road, before reaching the viewing platform.
The multi-level viewing platform is located approximately half-way around the auto tour, where there is a spotting scope, a restroom, and fantastic views! This Says Phoebe (Sayornis saya) was hanging out there hawking insects.
There are usually thousands of shorebirds in this section of the refuge but I guess it’s still a bit too early in the season.
There are plenty of ducks here however. Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck and Ruddy Duck can always be found foraging here, usually Pied-billed and Eared Grebe as well.
As I made my way along the back side of the refuge I received a special treat. This is the riparian area of the auto loop where owls, hawks, eagles and falcons are often found. My special treat? A juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) that appeared to have recently finished a meal and was busy preening in one of the cottonwood trees on the roadside.
I took plenty of pictures of this beauty. Here’s a portrait I really liked.
Heading back toward the visitor center on the auto tour I got my final treat of the day. A stretch of irrigation canal runs along side this section of roadway and I finally got a decent shot of one of my photographic nemesis birds, the American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus).
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Here is a last look at the Red-shouldered Hawk Preening.