alaskabirder

Its a Great Day to Bird

Month: December 2016

Cibola and Kofa National Wildlife Refuges

December 10, 2016

Another beautiful, sunny Arizona morning.  We drove to the Cibola NWR, which is located in Arizona and California, but you have to drive into California to get to the refuge.  Too bad too because when you are going to the Cibola NWR you can see the mountains in the Kofa NWR where we are camped.  These mountains are directly east of the visitor center but, no direct route from Kofa.  We have to drive an extra 30-40 miles to get here.

Surprisingly, no one was at the visitor center – it was closed on a Saturday.  They had a lot of brochures about hunting, fishing, Burrowing Owl project,  Sandhill Cranes – but no bird list.  I was bummed.  We took the Goose Loop auto tour route, with a stop at the Cornfield Nature Trail.  Not sure why it is called ‘Cornfield’ since the trail does not traverse any fields, let alone cornfields.

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Cornfield Trail

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Lots of Canada Geese at the refuge

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Lots of trees changing color too. So beautiful with the sun shining through.

The refuge is farmed to provide food for the cranes and geese during the winter.  On a board outside the refuge headquarters/visitor center the estimated number of cranes on the refuge is 1200.  We did see a lot of cranes.  These are ‘Greater’ Sandhill Cranes.  Their bills are significantly larger and more pointed than the Lesser Sandhill Crane.

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Corn stubble – but no where near the Cornfield Trail.

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Sandhill Cranes

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Over 30 Sandhill Cranes in this photo alone.  You will notice the cranes have molted and no longer exhibit their  extensive “painted” feathers.

Along the route are a number of artificial burrows for Burrowing Owls.  I estimate around twenty different burrows.  We only saw one Burrowing Owl, however.  The estimated number of Burrowing Owls on the refuge is 10 (per the board).  This doesn’t seem like very many.

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Burrowing Owl sign explaining purpose of Burrowing Owl Project (artificial burrows)

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No owls visible at these two artificial burrows

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Hooray, finally a Burrowing Owl at a burrow

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Here he was checking out something flying overhead – probably a goose, crane, or starlings.

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I think he wants us to leave.  The male typically stays with the burrow year-round, while the female migrates from September to March.

And speaking of Burrowing Owls, I learned the organization “Wild at Heart” installed 120 artificial burrows at Cibola NWR in 2010.  Thus I only saw about 1/6 of the total artificial burrows on the refuge.  These 20 burrows were spotted along the auto tour route, or seen from the auto tour road.  Lucky for us, these owls are diurnal – and thus we can find them (usually) outside the entrance to their burrows keeping watch.  In California, most of the Burrowing Owls we saw resided in natural burrows, rather than artificial burrows.  I think this owl is Jack’s favorite, and definitely in the top 3 for me.

The Cibola NWR, established in 1964, consists of approximately 18,500 acres comprised of several farm units.  We have visited this refuge several times in the previous years, including as recently as January 2016.  Today we visited both Farm Unit 1 and Farm Unit 3.  In the past we’ve only gone to Farm Unit 1, which has the auto tour route.  We observed 50 different species today in both units.  Not too bad a day of birding.

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Natural beehive on a nest box

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Up close view

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Mountain or Western Bluebird?  Any thoughts?  If so, let me know.

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Mountain or Western Bluebird – my guess is Mountain Bluebird.

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Looks like the same pose, but on a different medium.

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Farm Unit 3 is a first for us.  Some nice areas for birding, although there was a youth waterfowl hunting going on at the same time.  Lucky for us the youth hunt is primarily in the morning and late afternoon – so no shotgun blasts heard.  Not much in the way of waterfowl mid-day during our visit.  All the waterfowl are hanging out in Farm Unit 1, which is closed to hunting.  The waterfowl aren’t dumb.

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Pied-billed Grebe

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Verdin

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The mighty Colorado River, which bisects the refuge. That part of the refuge west of the river lies in California and that part of the refuge east of the river lies in Arizona.

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Saw this Red-naped Sapsucker as we were leaving the refuge

Bird Species Observed or Heard at Cibola National Wildlife Refuge

  • Anna’s Hummingbird
  • Sandhill Crane (Greater)
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Phainopepla
  • Snow Goose
  • Northern Shoveler
  • American Pipit
  • American Wigeon
  • Northern Harrier
  • Black Phoebe
  • Northern Pintail
  • Mallard
  • Canada Goose
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • American Coot
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Tree Swallow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Eared Grebe
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Vermillion Flycatcher (oh so pretty)
  • Bell’s Vireo
  • European Starling
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • American Kestrel
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Western or Mountain Bluebird
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Great Egret
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Osprey
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Verdin
  • Gambel’s Quail
  • Abert’s Towhee
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Snowy Egret
  • American White Pelican
  • Red-naped Sapsucker
  • Common Raven

We drove back to Kofa NWR for the night.  There aren’t a whole lot of birds in Kofa NWR – not much water.  In fact, the refuge was established to protect Big Horn Sheep, not birds.  Bird life is sparse.  Today I only saw a Phainopepla, and yesterday nothing.  Maybe tomorrow.

December 11, 2016

Today we decided to hike the Palm Canyon Trail (one-half mile one-way), and then hang out at our campsite.  Lazy day.  Read a lot.  Took short walks around the immediate area of our campsite.  Not much to report.  Few birds seen or heard.

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Cholla

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View from trailhead parking lot

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Canyon with the palms

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View of refuge from our campsite

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Jack relaxing and reading a book at our campsite

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge was originally established as a game range, managed jointly by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until 1976 when it became a national wildlife refuge.   And you can thank 10,000 Boy Scouts for their effort to protect this area for the Big Horn Sheep.  They campaigned in 1936 for the area’s protection, resulting in the establishment of the game refuge.  Of the 665,400 acres within Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, 547,700 acres are designated wilderness.

No beautiful sunset tonight.  But we do love this place.

December 12, 2016

Went into Quartzsite (Arizona) for breakfast.  That town really needs a good restaurant.  We then headed to Sedona Arizona where we will spend the next several weeks relaxing, visiting with family, hiking, birding, doing the Sedona Christmas Bird Count (December 14th), and enjoying the holidays.  Until then …

It’s A Great Day to Bird

Happy Holidays Everyone

 

Salton Sea and Joshua Tree

December 5, 2006

Spent yesterday visiting my sister and her family in Clovis, California.  Left early today for the long drive to the Salton Sea State Recreation Area.  We plan to spend three nights here.  Will bird the surrounding area over the next three days.  We so love this area, however, when we got here there were hardly any birds along or in the water.  Too much salt?  No fish?  Hard to know.  Will ask at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge tomorrow.  Usually there are thousands of grebes and waterfowl.  The area usually teems with shorebirds, cormorants, herons, and egrets.  All we had today are gulls and a few American White Pelicans.  Weird.  Where are all the birds?

December 6, 2016

Every time we visit the Salton Sea there is always something new or different.  The difference this time is the water level is much lower than last time we were here – January 2016.  Another difference is there are less birds, with the exception of gulls.  While there still are a lot of gulls, who knows maybe even their numbers are down.

This morning was a pleasant surprise with Ring-billed Gull, Western Gull (a rarity), Herring Gull, Bonaparte’s Gull, American White Pelican, Brown Pelican, Say’s Phoebe, American Coot, Northern Pintail, Black-bellied Plover, and Marbled Godwit.  What a difference a day makes.

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The campground “Say’s Phoebe”. Amazing how this bird could hold onto such a small twig.

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Morning at the Salton Sea

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There were a fair number of gulls along the water’s edge, but this gull decided to hang out near our campsite – waiting for food, no doubt.

We got an early start and headed down to the Wister Wildlife Area, managed by the state.  This area generally has thousands and thousands of ducks.  Not so today.  I doubt we saw more than a couple hundred ducks.

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A serious duck hunter

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Killdeer

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While the central valley of California may have been less dry than in previous visits, here there seemed to be even less water than in previous years.

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Peregrine Falcon

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White-faced Ibis and Snowy Egrets – the egrets like to follow behind the ibis as they feed.

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Some water here, but other areas pretty dry

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Great Blue Heron …

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… up close.  Wow, what a bill.

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Well this frog didn’t make it.

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But this beetle is still plodding along

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Red Hill Marina – well as you can see it would be a little difficult to unload or load a boat from here. Water in the lake was significantly lower than in previous years, or even since last January (2016) when we were last here.  It is hard to see the Salton Sea from this photo, but it is at the edge of the sand.

Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge

The 32,766 acre Sonny Bono NWR was established in 1930.  Of course then it didn’t have its present name, since Sonny Bono wasn’t even born yet. The refuge was renamed the Sonny Bono NWR in 1998 in honor of Sonny’s Congressional work for restoring the Salton Sea.

The refuge is comprised of two different units located 18 miles apart.  Today we visited the unit containing the visitor center.  This unit includes the Rock Hill trail, which begins at the visitor center and overlooks several fields and ponds, and allows one to check birds utilizing the sea and its shoreline.

Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) had a number of great species present, including two Burrowing Owls near the visitor center.  These little guys are always a treat.  We later saw a family of Burrowing Owls near their nest.  Another treat was a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  Our first gnatcatcher for the trip.  A Caspian Tern was working its way down a drainage channel.  We heard several Sora, but they remained hidden.  We were surprised we didn’t see any Snow Geese.  Maybe they haven’t made it down yet from the Central Valley of California.  And no Long-billed Curlews.  This is a first too.

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The refuge is undertaking a project to revitalize this area.

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These two Burrowing Owls were a show stopper for most refuge visitors. Their burrow is located near the visitor center.

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Last January there were a lot of Snow Geese in this field. Now none.

From the Sonny Bono NWR we continued along several back roads bordering the Salton Sea in search of more birds.  We weren’t disappointed.

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Have no idea what this is.

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Have seen shorebirds using this habitat in past years. None today.

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Up close view

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Killdeer

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Great Egret

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Great Blue Heron. Both this heron and the egret were in the same general area, but not the same tree.

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Long-billed Dowitcher

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Long-billed Dowitcher

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I believe the remnants of a dead coyote

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The sea generally comes up to these rocks

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American Avocet and Marbled Godwits

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Fun to watch the avocet swish its bill from side-to-side stirring up grub.

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Marbled Godwits

On the way back to our campsite – about 30+ miles away – we again took the back roads (many of them dirt) to check out the birds.  We were hoping to see some Long-billed Curlews, which we have always seen in the area, but not today.  We also check out the sides of the roads for more Burrowing Owls.  More than 70 percent of the California Burrowing Owl population can be found within the Salton Sea ecosystem.  And we did see three more of the owls.  Woohoo!!!  They are so small and so cute.

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A family of three?

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Greater Roadrunner

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A pleasant surprise

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Jack back at camp taking time out from reading his book to pet Doodlebug

And then the sunset – which is always so beautiful from our campsite.

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Bird Species Observed or Heard in the Imperial Valley/Salton Sea

  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Eared Grebe
  • Clark’s Grebe
  • American White Pelican
  • Brown Pelican
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Northern Pintail
  • Northern Shoveler
  • American Wigeon
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Common Merganser
  • Herring Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Western Gull
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Caspian Tern
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Killdeer
  • American Avocet
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Willet
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Least Sandpiper
  • American Coot
  • Sora
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Osprey
  • Northern Harrier
  • American Kestrel
  • Merlin
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Gambel’s Quail
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Mourning Dove
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Common Raven
  • American Crow
  • Greater Roadrunner
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Black Phoebe
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  • Marsh Wren
  • Barn Swallow
  • Tree Swallow
  • American Pipit
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • California Towhee
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Western Meadowlark
  • House Finch

December 7, 2016

Got a later start than normal.  Our intentions were to head down to the southern unit  of the refuge to bird, and then make our way back up to the headquarters.  Well we didn’t make it down to the southern unit until after lunch – too busy birding along the way.  What prevented us from getting there sooner were the Burrowing Owls we spotted along the way.  Along Shrimpf Road we spotted 6 Burrowing Owls each sitting at  their burrows.  So, assuming each burrow has at least two owls, there were 12 owls total – just along that one stretch of road, which is only a couple of miles long.  In total, at the end of the day, we had seen 15 Burrowing Owls and knew of at least 4 others we had seen the day before, but not today as we did not drive along the road where those owls reside.  That is a lot of Burrowing Owls in one day.  And these owls are ridiculously cute.

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Today we also head a beautiful sunrise

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Burrowing Owl

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We flushed this one from its burrow to the other side of a drainage ditch. He was not happy with us.

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This one just stood right outside the window of our van looking up.

We birded along back roads on our way to the southern unit of the refuge – stopping at ponds for waterbirds, and along side the roads in our eternal search for the Long-billed Curlew.  Where are you?

Lots of shorebirds were feeding along the southern Salton Sea shoreline – avocets, stilts, dowitchers, godwits.  The Least Sandpipers liked to feed a little more inland from the water’s edge.

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Sentry? Great Blue Heron

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Why are you up so high?  To see your prey better up there or is it for safety purposes?

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White-faced Ibis

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View from one of the refuge ponds

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Okay can you see the Merlin in the tree?

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Brown Pelican

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Common Merganser – female

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This was one of about 20 Snowy Egrets loafing on the rocks

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American Avocets

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There were a lot of birds on the water – many of the birds near shore in the foreground were American Avocets.

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Plenty of tires on the beach and elsewhere

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Dead Great Blue Heron. I suspect it flew into a vehicle.

At the southern unit of the refuge we did see around 100 Sandhill Cranes.  Nice to hear their unison call.  Reminds us of home.  The marshes had lots of Virginia Rail and Sora calling.  Fun to listen to, but they were no-shows.

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Sandhill Cranes

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We finally saw some Snow and Ross’ Geese, and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of waterfowl.  We took a short walk along a trail, checking out the birds.  We did flush a Green Heron.

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This where the Virginia Rails were hiding. I heard at least three of them. Darn, so wanted to see one.

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The trail

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Our van at the viewing platform.

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The refuge’s friends group need to do a little litter patrol.

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Cooper’s Hawk or Sharp-shinned Hawk? Tail feathers look a little worn.

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American Kestrel. I kept hoping the bird would turn around so I could get a better view (and photograph). No such luck.

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Green Heron

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Loggerhead Shrike

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This Great Blue Heron doesn’t look too happy

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American Coot

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Savannah Sparrow

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Burrowing Owl burrow sign post, although the actual burrow was about ten feet away.

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Lots of beehive boxes in the area – with active bees. These boxes are generally along side the road requiring one to keep their window closed.

At the visitor center I heard, but couldn’t find the hooting Great Horned Owl.  These owls are rare for the refuge.  I think the bird was hiding in a palm tree.  In previous years Barn Owls have roosted in the palm trees at the refuge headquarters.

Back at our campsite, we were treated once again to another beautiful sunset.  These sunsets are why we like this particular campground, as there are other places we could camp in the area.

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Bird Species Observed or Heard in the Imperial Valley/Salton Sea Area (birds in bold and underlined are species seen today, but not yesterday)

  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Great Horned Owl
  • California Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Brown Pelican
  • American White Pelican
  • Northern Pintail
  • Common Raven
  • Northern Harrier
  • Great Egret
  • Great Blue Heron
  • American Coot
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Mallard
  • American Wigeon
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Black Phoebe
  • Clark’s Grebe
  • Greater Roadrunner
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Killdeer
  • Merlin
  • American Kestral
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Mourning Dove
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Marbled Godwit
  • American Avocet
  • Willit
  • American Pipit
  • Eared Grebe
  • Common Merganser
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Snowy Egret
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Cattle Egret
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Snow Goose
  • Viriginia Rail
  • Gadwall
  • Green-winged Teal
  • American Bittern
  • Green Heron
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Marsh Wren
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Tree Swallow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Eurasian Starling
  • Say’s Phoebe

December 8, 2016

Woke up to sunny skies and a light wind.  We checked out the birds along the shoreline.  What a difference from the day we arrive (two days ago).  We went from gulls and pelicans to 17 different species:

  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • California Gull
  • Western Gull
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Killdeer
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Willet
  • Brown Pelican
  • White Pelican
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  • Northern Shoveler
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Habitat around our campground

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These shell casings are everywhere along the beach and sometimes several feet deep.

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Our resident Say’s Phoebe

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I think the birds like this particular area because of the fresh water flowing into the lake

We packed up the van and headed towards Joshua Tree National Park.  I hated to leave the Salton Sea area.  I always enjoy our visits.  This year, the water is much lower and the smell is almost non-existent.  At times it can be pretty smelly here.  And very little in the way of dead fish – Corvina.  That doesn’t bode well for the pelicans and other birds that feed on the Corvina.

We decided to stop off at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area visitor center and campground to bird.  We walked the campground and checked out the marina.  Lots of bird life.  We had 33 species within 1.5 hours.

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Black-necked Stilt

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Eared Grebes

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American Pipit

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Corvina scales

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Black-bellied Plover

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Black-bellied Plover

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Herring Gull

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I was surprised to find this Black-necked Stilt on a dock

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Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

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Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

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Head of a dead bird

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Spotted Sandpiper in winter plumage – no spots

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Woohoo!!! Another Green Heron

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Black Phoebe

Bird Species Observed or Heard at Salton Sea SRA Visitor Center/Campground

  • Black Phoebe
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Common Raven
  • Eared Grebe (they liked hanging out in the marina)
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Verdin
  • American White Pelican
  • Brown Pelican
  • American Pipit
  • Common Merganser
  • Cactus Wren
  • Red-naped Sapsucker
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Killdeer
  • Willet
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Tree Swallow
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • American Kestrel
  • Phainopepla
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Green Heron
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Hummingbird sp. (most common are Costa’s or Anna’s)
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Herring Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Abert’s Towhee
  • Northern Shoveler
  • European Starling
  • Northern Harrier
  • Lesser Scaup

[The bird species highlighted and underlined are new to the total list of bird species observed or heard while visiting the Salton Sea area.]

The Salton Sea SRA visitor center is a good place to bird because you have both the water and upland.  The campground has mesquite trees and creosote bushes, which the birds love.  Worth the stop.  In 2013, we even had a Prothonotary Warbler.

From the Salton Sea SRA visitor center and campground we headed to the Dos Palmas Preserve and the San Andres Palm Oasis.  We stopped at the San Andres Palmo Oasis first and took the short hike through the palms.  Man are they tall.  Makes you feel like a dwarf.

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Entrance to the Palms

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Female Phainopepla

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This palm is at least five feet wide (probably more)

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And you get to walk among them. Here is Jack and Doodlebug.

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Me and Doodlebug on the trail

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And sometimes they fall

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So are these sucker palms or a separate plant? I’m not sure.

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Hmmmm. There must have been some theft of the wires in the past. We saw this sign on several poles.

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Pretty desolate countryside around the palms. Maybe the palms suck up all the water.

We decided to forego the Dos Palmas Preserve.  We have been here several times before, but did not have a dog then.  We weren’t sure whether you could bring a dog in or not.  No signs telling you dogs are not allowed, but it was a bit of a hike on a road, in the hot sun (we are in the desert), and we weren’t sure Doodlebug would be up to the hike.  So off we drove to Joshua Tree National Park via a box canyon.  Interesting geology.  Free camping too if you don’t mind disbursed camping (i.e., no amenities whatsoever).  The area is under the management of the Bureau of Land Management (as is the Dos Palmas Preserve).

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Tonight we are camping at Belle campground within the national park.  There are only 18 campsites.  We found a nice, somewhat isolated campsite – not too close to other campers, although near the fee station.  Not many birds here – only two Common Ravens, two Cactus Wren, and one Rock Wren.  The desert here is beautiful, especially as the sun shines on the different cactus plants.  And the rocks.  Big (and I mean big) boulders.  We are camped next to one.

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Not all of the park has Joshua Trees

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Common Raven

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Silver Cholla

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Diamond Cholla

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Doodlebug at our campsite

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Rock Wren

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Rock Wren

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Our camp site

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Cactus Wren

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This rock reminds me of a closed fist

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December 9, 2016

We had originally planned to stay two nights in Joshua Tree but decided to go onto Kofa NWR.  We took an alternative route – a road less traveled.  I think Highway 62 from Twenty-Nine Palms to the Arizona Border could be called the Loneliest Highway in the U.S.

We made a short detour and took a road into the Sheephole Wilderness Area (BLM).  A well maintained road, and wide.  In fact, someone was grading the road while we were on it.  Not sure what the attraction is, maybe ATV/4Wheel Drive use or access to a mining area?  Beautiful, desolate area.  I would definitely check this area out in the future.  I’m sure there is some off road camping.  In fact, we saw an old VW bus parked just off the road and a lot of gear outside the bus.  Not sure where the owner was – maybe sleeping???

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This Ladderback Woodpecker was right next to our camp site this morning.

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The previous photos were taken along Highway 62. This last photo is taken on the road into the BLM Sheephead’s Wilderness Area. Very desolate.

Made it to Kofa NWR while it was still light.  We usually go up the Kofa Queen Canyon Road (4-WD recommended) and camp, but decided to camp (dispersed) just short of the refuge on BLM land.  We set up camp, such as it is, and ate dinner as we watched the beautiful sunset, which seemed to last forever.

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Tomorrow – birding at Cibola National Wildlife Refuge.  Until then …

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

California’s Central Valley

December 2, 2016

We woke up to a quiet campground (Buckhorn).   The campground is located overlooking a reservoir amidst scenic rolling hills.  Again, we were the only campers in the campground, with the exception of the campground hosts.  The hosts were in a closed section of the campground however.

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This is oak savanna habitat with lots of rolling hills and oaks interspersed throughout the habitat. One of my favorites.

We decided to take a hike and check out the birds in the campground.  Wow, what a pleasant surprise.  We had 21 different species in the campground area.  In addition to the birds we got to see California Ground Squirrels and Black-tailed Deer.

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Northern Flicker

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Say’s Phoebe (these guys are everywhere and so accommodating for photographs – you will see lots of them throughout my blog)

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All I want to do in the morning is hear you sing, Savannah, Savannah. Never knew that a bird like you could ever sound so sweet Savannah (sung to Rosanna).

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Acorn Woodpecker – what you would expect to see in Oak Savannah habitat.

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Oh deer!!!

The area is beautiful, with Live Oak trees spread throughout the campground and a wonderful trail system.  I would definitely recommend a day visit, if not overnight camping.

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Birds Species Observed or Heard at Buckhorn Campground

  • Great Horned Owl (heart two hooting just before dawn)
  • Acorn Woodpecker (chasing off Oak Titmice)
  • Oak Titmouse
  • Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon juncos)
  • Western Bluebird
  • Northern Flicker
  • Great Egret
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Black Phoebe
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Horned Lark (large flock of 20 or more)
  • Northern Harrier
  • Common Raven
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • House Finch
  • Common Merganser
  • Common Raven
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Western Meadowlark

After a morning of birding,  we  southeast towards our destination for the night – Acorn Campground at Hogan Reservoir.  This Corp of Engineer’s campground is located southeast of Sacramento.

We generally take the roads less traveled as we tend to see more that way.  We don’t enjoy speeding down the highway with everyone else on the freeways.   It is amazing what you can see when you take these back roads.

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We suspect this is a Wild Turkey.  We don’t know how it ended up on this road sign or why no one has bothered to remove it.  Well we didn’t either.  Poor thing.

Along the way we stopped off at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area – managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  At first we didn’t think this area had much in the way of waterfowl, but we soon realized, once we were on the auto route, there were indeed thousands of geese and ducks making use of the ponds within the wildlife area.

There is a charge of $4.00 per person to drive the auto route, but no envelopes present in which to put our money.  We, along with other drivers, went on the auto route anyway.

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Just a few Snow Geese

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These levees are a great place for loafing

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waterway covered in vegetation

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Close up of the invasive plant species in the waterway – nasty stuff

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Eurasian Wigeon

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The auto tour road

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Yellow-rumped Warblers were EVERYWHERE

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Killdeer

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Black-necked Stilt …

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… with a Greater Yellowlegs. The stilts didn’t like sharing with the yellowlegs and kept chasing them off.

Bird Species Observed or Heard at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area

  • Turkey Vulture
  • Snow Goose
  • Red-necked Stilt
  • Western Meadowlark
  • American Pipit
  • Nuttall’s Woodpecker
  • Black Phoebe
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • American Coot
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Gadwall
  • Mallard
  • Northern Shoveler
  • American Wigeon
  • Northern Pintail
  • Common Gallinule
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Ross’ Goose
  • Bufflehead
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Eurasian Wigeon
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Herring Gull
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • Marsh Wren
  • Black-crowned Night-heron
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Killdeer
  • Tree Swallow
  • Greater Yellowlegs (being chased by the Red-necked Stilts)
  • California Scrub Jay
  • Peep sp.
  • American Kestrel
  • Belted Kingfisher

Not a bad day of birding.  I did find a great map on the internet showing birding hotspots and routes in the Sacramento Valley.

(see: https://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/Region_8/NWRS/Zone_1/Sacramento_Complex/Sacramento/Uploaded_Files/Maps_and_Brochures/Visitor_Services/Birding_Maps/SacValley%20Birding%20Map%202012.pdf)

December 3, 2016

We wanted to get to two refuges today, and we had a two-hour drive from our campground to the first refuge, so we got an early start.   The first refuge we stopped at was the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge.  We have visited this refuge several times in previous years.

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge, established in 1966, encompasses 26,800 acres of wetlands, riparian forest, native grassland, and vernal pool habitat.  A population of the endemic tule elk can be observed along one of the three auto-tour routes.  We actually saw the elk from our vehicle and at the visitor center.

We chose to take an 8.5-mile auto tour route and one of several hiking trails.  The auto tour route took us about 3 hours to complete.  So what’s that – almost 3-miles per hour.  Okay we did drive a little faster, but made frequent stops to check out the birds.  Luckily it wasn’t a busy day even thought it was Saturday.  Lots of great birds along the way, plus we did a 1.0+ loop trail hike on the Sousa trail.

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Well used sign

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The auto tour road

In previous years this refuge has been very dry – not much water.  Not surprisingly considering the drought California has been experiencing.  However, this year there seemed to be plenty of water making great habitat for the birds.  We saw several hundred Lesser Sandhill Cranes, some of which may be Homer birds.  But alas, they were too far away for decent photos.

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Good – doing prescribed burns

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Red-tailed Hawk – Juvenile

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Oh Daddy…

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California Towhee

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Cottontail Rabbit

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Northern Mockingbird

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Jack spotted three Great Horned Owls along the auto route, which was a treat.  And we got to see 9 Wilson’s Snipe, one of which was just off the road feeding.  The Wilson’s Snipe is one of my favorite birds (I know you hear and read that a lot right?).

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“HOO” you looking at?

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Wilson’s Snipe

We stopped a hiked the Sousa Marsh Nature Trail.  Lots of great birds and beautiful habitat along the way.  They have a nice observation platform where you can check out a large pond, which was loaded with ducks and a few shorebirds.

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Didn’t see this sign until after we finished walking the trail. Yikes!!!

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Nest box for a duck, I presume

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Greater Yellowlegs. This bird was feeding along side Long-billed Dowitchers and Black-necked Stilts.

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Black-necked Stilt with lunch

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American Pipit

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Kept hoping to see a Wood Duck – no luck.

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Bird Species Observed or Heard at San Luis NWR

  • Great Blue Heron
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Black Phoebe
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Northern Harrier
  • California Scrub Jay
  • American Kestrel
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Great Egret
  • American Coot
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Mallard
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Killdeer
  • Red-necked Stilt
  • American Pipit
  • Least Sandpiper
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Northern Flicker
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Nuttall’s Woodpecker
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Northern Pintail
  • American Widgeon
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Redhead (one)
  • Gadwall
  • Swainson’s Thrush
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Tundra Swan
  • Mourning Dove
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Tricolored Blackbird
  • Snowy Egret
  • California Towhee

It truly was a great day to bird.  So much so we didn’t get to the second refuge we had planned to visit today – Merced National Wildlife Refuge.  We have been to this refuge in the past too.

Next stop (after a short visit with my sister in Clovis California) is the Salton Sea.

It’s A Great Day to Bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacramento Valley Birding

November 29, 2016

We departed  Klamath Falls and the wonderful hospitality of Jack’s sister  and headed into California.  Although snow was threatening, the roads were mostly dry, which is good since we don’t have studded snow tires, four-wheel drive, or even all-wheel drive for that matter.

We hated to leave Klamath Falls and Jack’s sister Mary who takes such good care of us.  Of course I did gain a couple of pounds during the stay and would have done that even without Thanksgiving thrown into the mix.  Mary always makes sure we are well fed.

Our first day back on the road was mostly spent driving.  We had planned to stay at Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area near Corning California (Olive capital of the world, I think), but the park was closed.  We stayed here during our 2013-2014 Sorta Big Year and liked it so was looking forward to staying here again.  I chose this location (there aren’t too many campgrounds in the vicinity) because of its proximity to several National Wildlife Refuges, including one of our favorite (yes we have so many its true) – Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.

We found an open campground at Colusa – the Colusa Sacramento River State Recreation Area.  This SRA campground is within the city limits of Colusa and is operated by the city on behalf of the state.  I almost think the campground was an afterthought.  Feels more like a day-use area, which in part it is.  There is a levee we walked and we were delighted by the number of birds we saw, including many Turkey Vultures coming in to roost for the night.  The highlight was a Nuttall’s Woodpecker and Red-shouldered Hawk.  This campground is located near the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, which we plan to visit the next day.

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Western Bluebird

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Don’t cry for me Turkey Vulture. I never thought I’d see you. All through my bird days. My mad obsession. You kept your distance I kept on searching. (Sung to Evita)

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Sumac leaves – oh so pretty

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Black Phoebe

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American Robin

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Red-shouldered Hawk

November 30, 2016

Before heading to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge we stopped at bakery that had gotten good reviews – Sweet Bean Bakery.  We were disappointed in the limited pastry selection.  We bought a couple of blueberry scones (almost as good as mine) and headed to the refuge – one of three refuges we would visit today.

Colusa National Wildlife Refuge

This 5,077 acre refuge was established in 1945.  The refuge offers a 3-mile auto tour route and a 0.5 mile hiking trail.  We took the auto tour route first and were we dazzled by the array of waterfowl present – thousands of Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Snow Geese, as well as American Coots.  In far less numbers were Cinnamon Teal, Mallards, American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Ross’ Geese, and one Eurasian Wigeon.

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Most likely one of the original refuge signs

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Loggerhead Shrike

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American Wigeon stretching

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Northern Pintail (male)

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Great Egret

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American Wigeon (female)

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American Wigeon fly away from me. American Wigeon going to set you free. (Sung to American Woman)

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Mallard pair

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Of course after being shot at even driving by in a car causes the birds to flush

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Great Blue Heron

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Red-shouldered Hawk

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Every once in awhile we would see an old bird nest

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Ring-necked Pheasant

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Male Ring-necked Pheasant

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House Finch

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Savannah Sparrow

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Savannah Sparrow

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Just a few ducks … and this was only one of many levees between ponds

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White-crowned Sparrow

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Marsh Wren

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Marsh Wren

We did stop along the route to watch several Western Meadowlarks feeding alongside the road.  One young meadowlark had something wrong with the side of its face.  Looked like a sore and the eye was missing.

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The highlight of the day however was the American Bittern lurking in the reeds right along side the road.  If I hadn’t been looking for Rails I would have missed it.  What a beautiful bird.  And we were lucky the bird didn’t flush too far when Jack backed up so we could be a better view, and me better photographs.

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Oh and I almost forgot – there was a lone Long-billed Curlew.  This bird is also a favorite and a highlight for the day.

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Along the route we were treated to over 120 Black-crowned Night Herons roosting in the trees along a stream.  Fun to watch a raptor flush the birds.  When the night-herons came back to the trees they were often chased off by other night-herons.  The juveniles never seem to catch a break.

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Slough – we counted over 120 Black-crowned Night-herons roosting in the trees here

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Night-heron trees

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Just a few night-herons in the trees here. Many you really have to look to find.

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Hatch year Black-crowned Night-heron

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Another juvvie

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Adult Black-crowned Night-heron

Giving Doodlebug a break, I did walk a Nature trail for a short distance.  Jack stayed back as he seemed to have gotten the chills.  It was windy and cold out in the morning.

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California Towhee

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When I saw this tree limb sticking out of this nest box I thought what the hey. I guess they use the limb to entice birds to use the nest since the nest box’s entrance hole is covered.

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Trail Sign

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0.5-mile trail

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Male Northern Pintail

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Greater White-fronted Goose

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Frilly Fungas

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge

  • Turkey Vulture
  • Mallard
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Snow Goose
  • Ross’ Goose
  • Northern Pintail
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Great Egret
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Gadwall
  • American Wigeon
  • Eurasian Wigeon
  • American Coot
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Killdeer
  • Savanah Sparrow
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Black-crowned Night-heron
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Marsh Wren
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Song Sparrow
  • Bufflehead
  • Black Phoebe
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Green-winged Teal
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Wood Duck
  • Northern Harrier
  • Ring-necked Pheasant
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Snowy Egret
  • House Finch
  • American Pipit
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Tree Swallow
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Common Gallinue
  • American Bittern
  • California Towhee
  • Northern Mockingbird

Develan National Wildlife Refuge

This 5,877 acre refuge, which was established in 1962, is, alas, closed to birders.  There was a sign encouraging us birders to use the auto tour routes at Colusa and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges.   Hunters, on the other hand are welcomed to Develan.  There were plenty of Snow and Ross’ geese for hunters to chose from.  Although we didn’t hear a lot of shots, the geese would flush and fly around in waves after waves of birds.  So beautiful when there are large flocks in flight.

We did drive along the border of the refuge but couldn’t see too much as the vegetation – mostly weeds – was too high.  From here we drove to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for some truly fine birding.

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This goose was alongside the road. It has been shot, but not killed. Not all shotgun blasts kill the birds outright.  Poor thing.  I hate to see animals suffer.

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Up close view of the goose’s bill. Weird looking.

On our way to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge we observed a lot of waterfowl and water birds in water covered rice fields.  Lots of great birding around the region.

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Snowy Egrets

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Bird Species Seen or Heard at Devevan NWR

  • Snow Goose
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Northern Pintail
  • American Coot
  • Black Phoebe
  • Snowy Egret
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • House Finch
  • Northern Harrier
  • Bald Eagle
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Common Raven
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

This 10,819 acre refuge, which was established in 1937.   In the winter the refuge is home to 500,000-750,000 ducks, and 250,000 geese.  WOW !!!!  That is a lot of birds.

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This sign is unique.

The refuge has a 6-mile auto tour route.  We’ve been to this refuge several times in the past and always enjoy the waterfowl and other wildlife.  We weren’t disappointed today.

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Male Northern Shoveler

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We Three Coots of Sacramento Refuge

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There were Snow (and Ross’ ) Geese everywhere ….

We generally see at least one male Ring-necked Pheasant, but today saw 3 (along with 2 females).  Although these birds are non-native to the U.S., you have to admit they are beautiful birds.

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In the past we’ve seen a fair number of shorebirds at this refuge, however, with the water being so high most of the shorebird habitat was covered.   Not that we are complaining because California has been experiencing severe droughts and the birds need the water.  We did see about 20 Black-necked Stilts and 3 Killdeer so I won’t complain.  Love the stilts – such elegant birds on long red legs.

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Black-necked Stilt

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Killdeer

When we do the auto route it usually takes us three plus hours to travel the refuge roads.  Today was no exception.  Lots of great birds and a few mammals observed too.

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California Towhee

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Belted Kingfisher near the visitor center putting on quite a show …

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… here watching the water for fish movement

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Jackrabbit

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Snowy Egret

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Turtle on the log. I actually took the photo because I liked how the log looked in the water. Only after taking the photo did Jack bring the turtle to my attention.

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California Ground Squirrel

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American Pipit

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Loggerhead Shrike

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Red-tailed Hawk. I was told one way to tell the Red-tailed Hawk from other hawks is the dark head – white chest- dark breast (dark, light, dark).

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

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Bird Species Seen or Heard at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Great Egret
  • Black Phoebe
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • American Coot
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • Common Raven
  • California Towhee
  • Western Meadowlark
  • European Starling
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Snow Goose
  • Ross’ Goose
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Mallard
  • Northern Pintail
  • Gadwall
  • American Pipit
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Northern Harrier
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Canada Goose (these guys aren’t very common here)
  • Ring-necked Pheasant
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • American Goldfinch
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Herring Gull
  • American Wigeon
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • Snowy Egret
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Northern Flicker
  • Bushtit
  • Nuttall’s Woodpecker
  • Marsh Wren
  • Killdeer
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Bufflehead
  • Merlin

The highlight at this refuge were the Bushtits (one of my favorite birds – they are sooooooooo cute) and of course  the amazing sight of  thousands and thousands of snow geese.  Truly a spectacle.

All the refuges sported Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, and Northern Harriers.  We did see a Red-shouldered Hawk at Colusa, a Bald Eagle and American Kestrel at Delevan, and a Merlin and Peregrine Falcon at Sacramento.

Luckily there is a lot of water at all three refuges.  These refuges are so important as they support a lions share of the Pacific Flyway population of waterfowl.  We saw a lot of waterfowl at Lower Klamath NWR, but there are a lot at these three refuges too.

Traveling from one refuge to another we also came across two Greater Yellowlegs in a rice field, Mourning Doves on power pole and fence lines, and hundreds of Brewer’s Blackbirds.

Tonight we are staying at the Buckhorn Campground at Black Butte Lake Recreation Area (an Army Corp of Engineer recreation operated area).  I think we are the only campers here tonight – but you can’t go wrong for $10 a night with the old geezer pass.  This area is located in a beautiful setting – rolling hills dotted with shapely oak trees – about ten miles west of Orland, California.

December 1, 2016

Our intention was to bird the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge again in the morning and then head south for the night.  But we didn’t make it to the refuge until the afternoon.  Boy what a difference a day makes.  Seems like we saw more ducks (definitely a few new duck species – well some we didn’t see yesterday), and in areas where we saw hundreds of Snow Geese – nothing.  We did see Snow Geese later on during the auto tour route.  For new species – to add to the list of species already seen at the refuge over the last two days – we added another six to the list:  Ruddy Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Canvasback, Long-billed Dowitcher, American Bittern (saw one at Colusa, but not Sacramento yesterday), and Cooper’s Hawk.

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We were so surprised to have seen two American Bitterns in two days. Score!!!

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We watched (and video taped) the bittern as it stealthy moved off into the reeds

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Black-necked Stilt

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Along the auto route there are three ‘park and stretch’ spots, including this one with an observation platform.

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One of my top five favorite birds in the U.S. is a Bushtit. I felt so fortunate to have captured one on film. I recently learned the male Bushtits  have black eyes. Not so for the female Bushtits whose eyes are a pale yellow or white (after fledging).

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Notice the eye color – male Bushtit

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Black Phoebe

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Cooper’s Hawk near the visitor center

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Bird nest

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

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Belted Kingfisher (female)

The Sacramento Valley is important habitat for waterfowl.  We saw thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands (you get my drift) of them in our short couple of day stay in the valley.

Birds Seen or Heard at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (today)

  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Bushtit
  • California Towhee
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • American Coot
  • Great Egret
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Northern Harrier
  • American Pipit
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Pintail
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Gadwall
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Red-necked Pheasant
  • Snow Goose
  • Herring Gull
  • American Wigeon
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Black Phoebe
  • American Bittern
  • Marsh Wren
  • Mallard
  • Bufflehead
  • Canvasback
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Killdeer
  • Common Raven
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Nuttall’s Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Canada Goose
  • House Finch
  • Brewer’s Blackbird
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Snowy Egret
  • European Starling
  • Copper’s Hawk
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Oh least I forget to mention, shortly after leaving our campground we did spot three Yellow-billed Magpie.  These magpies are endemic to California.  We’ve seen them before, but it is always a treat to see them again.  I just love their yellow bills – very striking.

We decided to camp at the other campground (Orland Butte) for the night, but found it closed, so back to Buckhorn campground for another lonely night – still no other campers (Nice).

Remember – It’s Always a Great Day to Bird

 

 

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