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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Northern California bird sanctuary: Colusa Wildlife Refuge

Recently Hubby and I made our second trip to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge in Colusa, California. We were there back in January in search of the falcated duck we never saw. But simply discovering the sanctuary made the two and a half hour, each way from San Jose, trip worthwhile and I told hubby we'd have to go back periodically throughout the year to see the new birds that come to stay with each new season.

Northern Shovelers

Since we were heading  up to WIlliams, just across the interstate, with our friend Dana to shoot wildflowers I knew we would also be able to zip over to the wildlife refuge and see some new birds as the website outlines which birds are around during different seasons. With winter behind us I knew the ducks would be leaving and the shore and wading birds would be arriving.

This is the second sign you'll see as you arrive at the refuge after turning south off HWY 20 East from Interstate 5.

Once again we saw lots of Greater White-fronted Geese near the observation deck. It was late in the afternoon so most were resting.

We also saw this well camouflaged lizard.

He's a western fence lizard. You can just barely see the cobalt blue patch on his throat. His stomach was probably blue too but you can't tell because of the shadows.

Black-necked Stilt

Our first shorebird sighting! A black-necked stilt searching through the marshy area near the observation deck.

According to Wikipedia it was probably looking for:

". . .aquatic invertebrates – mainly crustaceans and other arthropods, and mollusks – and small fish, tadpoles and very rarely plant seeds. Its mainstay food varies according to availability; inland birds usually feed mainly on aquatic insects and their larvae. . ."

We didn't stay near the observation deck for long opting instead to get back in the car and take the auto-tour driving route. At Colusa it is mandatory you don't exit your car while on the driving route so I was once again shooting from out the passenger window and sunroof with my monopod to get the following shots.

A White-faced Ibis?

My favorite shorebird that day was the white-faced ibis. Even though it looks like an adult I'm wondering if it could be a young adult which might explain the absence of the typical bright white feathers that normally outline the bare skin around their faces. Either way the colors on it's body and face were stunning. It took me quite a few tries to capture the iridescence of its feathers.

What a beauty!

The ibis themselves were plentiful so we had more than a few tries to get a good shot.

And it's always lunch time at the refuge. Last time you may remember I was able to photograph a pied-billed grebe eating a fish. This time we spotted this greater egret who appeared to be hunting so we stopped the car and waited a bit.

It didn't take long. A quick dart and gotcha! I was a little bummed its back was toward us which made it hard to see and focus. Luckily after catching its prey it turned around as if to face my camera.

Wow! I didn't know we had crayfish living in the waterways here in California! I thought they were a southern thing. I love how the skin around it's face is such a vivid green. That, like the crayfish, was completely unexpected.

*Gulp* and down it goes. It's neck became quite distended as it swallowed.

Western or Pacific Pond Turtle?

We also saw turtles in two places. I'm not sure if they were the same kind or two different species because one had very orange tinted skin and its shell was orange too.

As it turns out western pond turtles and pacific pond turtles are the exact same kind of turtle but with two different names. If they were birds I'd try harder to identify them for accuracy but for now I'll pass. Trying to find all of the names of the wildflowers in yesterday's post took a Herculean effort so I'm kind of burned out on Googling for now.

Ever want to just get away from the city? This was such a peaceful view of the snow capped mountains in the distance. It was the kind of moment when you just want to pause and "be."

As we rounded the bend we spotted the fourth great blue heron of the day. The thing is the first three flew away every time we got within 100 feet of them. This one posed nicely even if it was for only a minute.

As we continued on with the auto route I stood out of the sunroof to take this picture behind us. Just past those trees Hubby spotted either a beaver or muskrat swimming in the water to the right. One of the maddening things about photographing wildlife is that mammal, bird or reptile they all move quickly so by the time you see something you may have just a split second to get a shot in before it runs, flies or swims away. We also saw a GORGEOUS ring necked pheasant in the road but it also ran into the brush before we got close enough to get our cameras on it.

Thankfully the black-crowned night herons didn't move at all. LOL

Well, a few did like this one in flight. Catching it was kind of exciting.

At that point everyone seemed to be either flying away. . .

Or resting.

Funny how despite the vivid colors of the ibis and the action shot of the egret catching the crayfish my two favorites are the calm, more monochromatic images I began and am ending this post with.

If you want to visit the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge here's how you get there from San Jose.

Their website describes the refuge this way:

"The 4,507-acre refuge primarily consists of intensively managed wetland impoundments, with some grassland and riparian habitat. The Sacramento Valley is one of the most important wintering areas for waterfowl in North America. Colusa Refuge typically supports wintering populations of more than 200,000 ducks and 50,000 geese."

Colusa National Wildlife Refuge - Visit their website by CLICKING HERE
  • The best wildlife viewing time is in the early morning and late afternoon
  • Wildlife observation is best during mid-November - January
  • The refuge is open one-hour before sunrise to one-hour after sunset year-round
  • 4,567 acres, including seasonal marsh, permanent ponds, and uplands
  • CLICK HERE for a list of abundant, common, uncommon and rare wildlife sightings
  • Restrooms are available near the parking lot
  • In the winter dress in layers and bring a warm hat and gloves
  • How to get there from San Jose: Take I-5 to the “Highway 20, Colusa” exit. Turn east on Highway 20. The Refuge is about 6.5 miles on the right. (Note: you will pass the Colusa Hunter Check Station turnoff a few miles before the Refuge.)

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