Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bye Bye Big Year

As my Big Year comes to a close, I can now take a moment to look back at all of the beautiful, different birds I saw this year. All I can say now that it's over is I want to do it again! (Hear that, 2017? This is your year to shine!)

When I first started the year, I mentioned that I hoped to visit the Humboldt and Klamath NWR's and Crater Lake. We managed to make it up to Lower Klamath, but didn't end up going to Humboldt or anywhere in Oregon. Which was perfectly okay! Instead, we ended up going to San Francisco as well as the Botanical Gardens at Fort Bragg on the coast and they were wonderful in their own unique ways.

Back in January I didn't set a goal for the year, but I had hoped to see about 50 different species of birds. That's the great thing about setting (low) realistic goals, because we actually ended up seeing 123 and were really excited when we reached 100.

All in all, we ended up visiting our local "bird places" (the Sacramento NWR, Colusa NWR and Llano Seco NWA) A LOT, along with a few other unexpected places. We never even left the state of California.

Here's a list of all the places we went to to look for birds:

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
Lake Siskiyou
Colusa National Wildlife Refuge
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Llano Seco Unit (part of the North Central Valley Wildlife Management Area)
Burney Falls
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge
Lake Almanor
Lema Ranch
Paynes Creek Wetlands
San Francisco
Shasta Dam
Woodson Bridge
Gray Lodge Wildlife Area
Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge (Codora Unit and Packer Unit)
Chico Oxidation Ponds

My hubby and I had so much fun looking for new birds and keeping track of the ones we saw! We took thousands of photos and made many fantastic memories! We learned a lot about birds, ourselves, and that you don't have to venture far from home to find some amazing things in nature.

Thanks for coming along for my 2016 adventure! Here's to a Happy New Year and many more bird sightings!

Rachelle Vaughn

Friday, December 30, 2016

Top 10 List

rachelle vaughn

Now that the year is coming to a close, I thought it would be fun to post my top ten favorite photos of the year. 2016 was a big year for me, literally and figuratively. I saw a grand total of 123 different species of birds this year and took as many photos as humanly possible.

At first, weeding out my favorites sounded like an easy task... and then I began sorting through them. Between the pelican and cormorant convention at the refuge and the abundance of birds at Lassen, I soon discovered it was nearly impossible to choose only ten. Sometimes my favorite photos aren't my best and my best aren't necessarily always my favorite.

Fort Bragg California

So, after narrowing down the field considerably (and feeling a twinge of guilt for leaving certain ones out), I've come up with ten photos that I hope can do my Big Year justice. Just because I didn't include the hummingbird that I fondly call Elvis, or the Osprey and her babies at Shasta Dam doesn't mean they aren't any less special to me.

All right, without further ado, here are (a few of) my favorite feathered friends from 2016:

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
I especially love this egret's colorful bill during breeding season.

The plumes on the back of this Great Blue Heron's head are awesome!

There's just something ethereal about this Red-winged Blackbird perched in the weeds.

Western Meadowlarks sing the most beautiful song and are stunning to look at (when you can get them to pose for you!)

Why did the Bittern cross the road? So that I could get this rare photo, of course!

The "horn" on this pelican's bill makes him even more magnificent!

Who can resist a sparrow singing his heart out?

Wind can cause bad hair days for birds, too!

This early bird kindly took time out of getting the worm to strike a fierce pose for me.

I had no idea how beautiful woodpeckers were until I got a close-up pic of this Acorn Woodpecker.

Okay, there they are. I hope you enjoyed the photos of my Big Year as much as I've loved posting them. 2017, here we come!

manzanita lake

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Birding Lessons

Man, oh, man! Every time we go out birding I learn something new!

I learned to take photos of EVERYTHING because what looks like a sparrow in the shadows might actually be your first Kestrel sighting.
I never realized how small Kestrels were until I saw one!

And, once again, I learned to take photos of anything and everything that catches your eye because when you get home and look at them on the computer you might find some shorebirds mixed in with a flock of cormorants that you didn't spot with the naked eye...

Or a pair of birds in a tree when you were taking a photo of just the one.

When I took this photo I had no idea there was a pair of doves in this tree until I got home... (I should have known. They are almost always in pairs!)

And I had no idea there was a male Robin with this female. They were moving around so much in the tree and I was just trying to get a photo so I could identify later what turned out to be a female robin...

So, as I wrap up my Big Year, I decided to post some things to keep in mind for my future birding adventures.

Things I Learned during my Big Year 2016:

1. Differences between adult and juvenile birds
Sometimes there is a HUGE difference between juvenile and immature birds and what they will look like when they become an adult. Part of why I had such a difficult time identifying new birds was because I didn't realize this in the beginning of my Big Year.

Here is an example:

colusa NWR
These Black-crowned Night Herons are like night and day!

There are also different "morphs" and "forms" and I read that even experts have a difficult time differentiating between hawks. (That little tidbit makes this amateur feel so much better!)

2. You don't have to go far off the beaten path to find birds
Some of our most unexpected (and delightful) bird sightings were from the side of the road. And even in the parking lot.

I love how you can drive down a country road and BOOM there's a Kingfisher on a telephone wire right above your car!
 Or a hawk (airing out his wings?) on a High Voltage sign:

3. Mating season plumage can be WAY different from winter plumage
sacramento NWR
April 26th

November 1st
And sometimes it's a subtle change of coloring near the eye...
April 26th
November 1st
When I'm 80, standing out at the refuge with my binoculars and camera in hand, I still don't think I'll have learned everything there is to know about birds. And that's okay. It's fun to have a hobby that keeps you on your toes and keeps you guessing!
One of my "classrooms"
Colusa National Wildlife Refuge

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Colusa Tree

Taking a photo of this particular tree at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge has become sort of a tradition of mine. Now that the year is coming to a close, I decided to put all the photos together and create a timeline of the refuge throughout the seasons...
January 27, 2016

February 1, 2016
April 26, 2016
October 5, 2016
October 20, 2016

November 1, 2016

Two hawks sittin' in a tree...

My field guide says that although seeing a bird of prey can be a thrill, identifying one is a challenge that consumes most birders. It goes on to say that many  raptors display confusing variations of plumage and that even experts debate their identification. I have to say, reading that makes me feel a little bit better about my own struggles with identifying the birds I see. I do the best that I can, but most of the time I feel like I'm just making an educated guess.

These two hawks (yes, I'm going out on a limb (pun intended) and identifying these as hawks!) were at the Sacramento NWR auto tour and at first I thought they might be Norther Harriers, but I'm pretty sure they are Red-tailed Hawks.
 And one more thing: aren't they territorial???
Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
 Anywho, they are magnificent birds no matter what their technical names are!
 Can you tell how windy it was that day?
 I told you I'm getting better at aerial shots! :D

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Phoebe and Friends

Phoebe's are one of my new favorite birds! Not only can I see that at home in my backyard, but they also pop up around the wildlife refuge, too!
Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Black Phoebe

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge California
 The sky was full of geese at the Sacramento NWR!

Monday, December 26, 2016

My Competition is Fierce

Once in a while, when the birds are on his side of the car on the auto tour at the SacNWR, my hubby gets to man the camera. I'm so jealous of the beautiful photos he takes!
Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Snowy Egret

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge California