Monday, November 5, 2007
A wildlife refuge recce
There were good reasons to get out of the house yesterday. First, if there's too much work at home don't hang around. Then the time change: we were up earlier than usual. Third, promising weather: the coast range was crisp against the morning sky. Somewhere on the shimmering expanses of the pale valley the wild geese were beckoning. And finally, as you know from the recent absense of camera trapping posts, I am still looking for new localities to stake cameras. Sunday was to be a recce of national wildlife refuges.
Down the ridge the aging Honda wheels, past my favorite fig browsing tree (now barren) and Rt 70's aggravating road work where the new overpass collapsed on a truck this summer. Then around the ugliest reservoir in the valley, and beyond to Route 162 which cuts westward across the valley.
I glance to my side and the Redhead is as pleased as a pooch in a pickup, so I discretely click into autocruise. (No objection, she didn't notice). I honk at numerous small flocks of road shoulder habitues -- blackbirds (Brewers and redwings) and nondecript sparrows, as well as occasional meadowlarks. Damn -- I stupidly whiz past a flooded field filled with white-faced ibises. When we reach the first stop the roadkill count is 2 possums, 2 raccoons.
First stop: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. A quick chat with the two women in the empty visitor center. A few birders are doing the walkabout, but it's too early for the Sunday riders. We opt for the driving tour. Because we're alone we can creep along and stop where there are breaks in the rushes. The wetlands are packed with northern pintails and shovelers, gadwalls, American wigeons, mallards, teal, tons of coots, and white-fronted geese. We tick off the IDs in the checklist. Northern harriers, redtails, kestrels, Cooper's hawks, and white-tailed kites are reminders that there is vertebrate prey aplenty.
Further on the snow geese. After many attempts I fail to take even one decent picture of them. So I post the pic above with humble discomfiture. I really must study Brdpics blog for advice on digiscoping. (Why didn't I check it out last night?) Holding the point and shoot Sony against the eyepiece doesn't cut it. I need a jury rigged connector to hold the camera in place . Better yet, I need to buy a decent birding camera with a tele lens. Anyway, I thought they were snow geese, but now I think they may be Ross's geese with their shorter necks. Anyone know?
When it comes to birding, federal and state wildlife refuges are hard to beat. The agencies know this and have posted a nice Birding Trail Hotspot Map (it's a pdf at this site). This refuge provides a free telescope at one of the viewing decks, and there are two photo blinds.
The wetlands also support a healthy population of otters, coyotes, and muskrats, in addition to the usual species I have posted here before, like mountain lions, raccoons, skunks, and gray foxes. We see only a black-tailed deer.
Oh yes, polistine wasps add to the excitement by casually flying into the car, but there are no mishaps. It's the end of the life cycle and they're desperately provioning their nests. (These are the paper wasps that make nests under your eaves.)
We head south toward the burning fields, and soon we are skirting another refuge.
Second stop: Delevan Wildlife Refuge. I knew this refuge lacked visitor facilities, but the west boundary fence is so heavily posted you get the feeling its a poachers' paradise. The best habitat shot I can get is this view of the channel bordering the road. Back in the car the redhead tells me I could have been shot. (The shotguns were barely audible).
Thinking the sights may be better on the east side, we drive through the town of Colusa and turn north on River Road, but an enormous levee blocks the refuge and the Sacramento river from sight.
We keep going, and encounter some remnants of bygone days.
Next, I take a wrong turn, and we end up on a poorly maintained road bordering abandoned farmhouses and newly plowed fields where turkey vultures are foraging like barnyard chickens. (The attraction has to be disked wildlife). Then a treat. Around a corner and down into a woody swatch we startle a large covey of quail. The road just keeps going, abruptly turning right and then left.
Somehow we manage to cross Rt 162 without even knowing it, and find ourselves unexpectedly at
Stop 3: Llano Seco. Now here is a place to come back to. No channels, culverts or flood gates here. Just a meandering stream with sandhill cranes and dowitchers in the distance. I don't know what the Sacramento Valley looked like 100 years ago, but I imagine this comes closest to it. The sign, marred with a few bullet holes, tells us that Rancho Llano Seco...was the last Mexican land grant in California to remain under single ownership."
It's late, but it feels good to know what the valley has to offer. We'll be coming back.