Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Big Unit

Here are a few of the photos we took on the walking trail at the Codora Unit of the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge...
It's a great place to see a lot of little birds. You've got to be quick with your camera because they move FAST!
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Great Blue Heron in flight

White-crowned Sparrow

Ruby-crowned Kinglet


Golden-crowned Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow
Now that I've discovered the Merlin Bird ID app, I can officially say I've seen my first Bushtit and Ruby-crowned Kinglet! The app is amazing and helps a ton when you're trying to identify tricky birds. My Big Year 2017 is going to be even bigger because of it!!!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Pond Hopping

It's been a while since we've been back to the Chico Oxidation Ponds. This time there weren't as many birds and it was cold and windy, but we got to see a kingfisher right away, up on the telephone wire above the walking trail.

 The female is above and there's a male below...
And these cute little bluebirds were totally worth going for...

We also got photos of a killdeer and our first ever American Pipit...

I never would have known this was an American Pipit if it wasn't for the Merlin Bird ID app. Get it if you don't already have it because it's ah-mazing!


The Colusa NWR has been flooded and the auto tour closed, so we've been hanging out at the Sacramento NWR in the meantime. That doesn't mean we've seen any less birds! SNWR has enough birds to go around and I have to say I think some of the photos we took are frame-worthy!

I've been calling the above bird a Moorhen, but it turns out that I have an outdated field guide and they aren't even a species anymore! Hello, Common Gallinule, nice to meet you!

And finally, I saw the cutest river otter and he even posed for the camera for me...

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Who's There?

Yesterday I told you all about my amazing Vermilion Flycatcher encounter. What I didn't mention was that we also spotted our first Burrowing Owl on the very same day!
 It was a day to remember, that's for sure!
This little owl was on the side of the road (County Road Z near the intersection of County Rd 50, South of Llano Seco Unit) and he simply sat there while I snapped as many photos as I could, considering we were stopped in the middle of the road.
We drove up the road to turn around and get a better angle of the owl in better lighting and I spotted a Bald Eagle...
 ...and an immature Bald Eagle...
 ...along with a Merlin...
I told you it was quite the day!

And now, back to the owl...
I still can't believe my hubby spotted him sitting there, blending in with the dirt and gravel!
The only other owl species we've ever seen is the Great Horned Owl at the Sacramento NWR. And we only saw those when they were tucked in a tree and difficult to see because of all the branches.
 But this little guy was right there, out in the open, and he didn't seem to mind us at all!
Through the excitement, I managed to take some video so you can see his head turning this way and that...

Birding is truly an adventure. You never know what you're going to spot when you head out the door with your camera!


Saw a bunch of different birds at the Colusa NWR...

 It was cloudy and gray, my favorite kind of day...

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Rare Sighting Indeed!

I had one of the most incredible days of birding last week and it's taken me a few days to process it all. So, I'll start at the beginning. On Thursday, January 26th, my hubby and I were at Llano Seco early one morning to watch the sun rise and see if we could spot any new birds to add to our Big Year list. There have been many road closures in the area due to flooding and we were happy to be able to finally visit the refuge. It was as beautiful as you could imagine and much colder than we'd anticipated. The rising sun played off the lingering clouds and created a burst of oranges and pinks over the horizon...
 To the west, the snow-capped mountains looked muted yet majestic...

In front of us on the walking trail, a Northern Harrier rested on the ground for a moment...
llano seco wma unit
...before taking flight again and sending the ducks scurrying for cover...

During our walk, we saw a wide variety of ducks and birds, including wigeons, pintails, shovelers, coots, red-winged blackbirds, yellow-rumped warblers, meadowlarks, killdeer, sandhill cranes and our first loggerhead shrike of the year.
llano seco wma unit

llano seco wma unit

The sun rose higher in the sky and we were making our way back down the trail when we ran into another birder. He mentioned a sighting of a Vermilion Flycatcher at the cemetery in Maxwell. My hubby had read about the sighting on the Sacramento NWR Complex's Facebook page a few days ago, but the story was posted on January 5th and we figured the bird was long gone by now. The birder assured us the bird was still there and could be spotted perched on the tombstones. As hubby and I drove to Sacramento NWR, we talked about how cool it would be to see a bird that wasn't even supposed to be anywhere close to this far north.

When we arrived at SNWR, there was a school bus in the parking lot and a dozen cars zipping through the auto tour. The main reason we go to the refuge is to get away from people and we knew our visit was meant for another day, when we could have the place to ourselves.

"It's okay," I told hubby. "I've got a flycatcher to catch anyway."

So, feeling like we were in a movie or something, we drove the 30 miles or so to Maxwell on a hunch that the Vermilion Flycatcher would still be there.

Would he really be there, just hanging out around a cemetery when he was supposed to be in the southwestern United States and southward?
So, there I was at Maxwell Cemetery, walking around with a camera around my neck, looking for a little red bird from South America. The experience was surreal to say the least and I couldn't believe it was happening. Most of the graves were from the 1800's, but instead of feeling creepy the cemetery was peaceful and the birds created a cheery soundtrack from the trees around us.
As I kept an eye out for a flash of red, I saw a mockingbird in a tree who later flew up onto one of the statues, making for a striking photo op.
maxwell cemetery colusa county california

northern mockingbird

northern mockingbird
There were a few phoebes chirping and flying around, but still no flycatcher.
maxwell cemetery colusa county california

Finally, when I was beginning to think we'd embarked on a wild goose chase, my hubby spotted what I would later describe as one of the most extraordinary things I've ever seen.
maxwell cemetery colusa county california
There he was, that little red bird that wasn't supposed to be this far north, perched on a headstone. He dropped to the ground to feed and quickly returned to perch on the next headstone over.
We watched in awe, our cameras working double-time to keep up, as he fluttered around the cemetery, moving from grave to grave.
maxwell cemetery colusa county california

maxwell cemetery colusa county california

Even now, as I look back at the photos and write this blog post, I'm still amazed at what we saw that day.
And what made it even better was the fact that there was no one around. It was just me and the love of my life and a hundred souls resting in peace as this beautiful bird brightened our day and our hearts.
I thought for sure we'd drive up and there'd be dozens of binocular-wielding birders, hoping to catch a glimpse of something miraculous. Everyone else must have gone to see him weeks ago when the sighting was first announced.
My hubby, who's photography skills have surpassed mine, actually captured the flycatcher with an insect! My sweetie didn't even realize it until later when we went through the photos from the day!

As you can see, this rare sighting was pretty darn amazing. I guess, sometimes you just have to go with your gut and hope that something incredible will come of it...
We managed to get some video, too:
And so, with a joyful/astonished heart, I can add Vermilion Flycatcher to my Big Year 2017 list. Thank you, little red bird. I don't know why you picked that particular place to hang around, but I'm so glad it was nearby. And I'm thankful I have someone special to share life's extraordinary moments with.