Monday, November 29, 2021

Some Close-Up Shots at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) with juvenile
One thing about having relatives in Oregon is that we get to travel north during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Doing so brings us in close proximity to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge near Williams in California's Great Valley. We usually manage to eke out a stop during our long drives between states, but we missed a year because of the accursed pandemic. 

Ross's Goose (Anser rossii)
We were thus especially looking forward to a tour of the auto-loop this morning and we were not disappointed. California's Great Valley (called by some uncreative souls the Central Valley) is a major wintering habitat for millions of migrating geese, swans, cranes, and ducks. 95% of the valley has been co-opted by agricultural development, so the few wetlands preserved as refuges are critical to the bird's survival. There were thousands of Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) and Ross's Geese (Anser rossii) present in the ponds. They can be tricky to distinguish from a distance, but if you compare the photos above you can see the Snow Geese have a dark lining like lipstick on their beaks, which are also longer. The Ross's Geese are smaller overall as well.

When I mention that there were thousands, I was not exaggerating...they filled the skies, and the sound of their squawking in any other setting (for instance a horror movie) would be terrifying.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
There were some Great Blue Herons present, and they seemed rather accustomed to the large iron-clad beasts rumbling by on the road. I don't often get a chance to be so close to them.

We are used to seeing many of these birds at the refuges in our own backyard, but the Sacramento refuge is a more dependable place for spying a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Or should I say it spied us? This one was only 20-25 feet above us.

The adult was watching over two juveniles in the next tree. It takes them a few years to get "bald", but the huge beak is always distinctive.

Our biggest thrill was catching sight of a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). We had finished with the eagles and told ourselves we were out of time and that there weren't any birds that would stop us from finishing the loop, but of course only 200 yards down the road we had this falcon politely posing for us. Of course, we stopped and spent an inordinate amount of time taking pictures. We made it home in time to pick up our precious kitties from the kennel, but only barely.


Monday, November 1, 2021

A Very Intelligent Bird: Common Raven at Yosemite National Park


It's hard to imagine a more ubiquitous bird at my favorite national parks than the Common Raven (Corvus corax). No matter how harsh the climate, the bird has found a way to adapt. In the driest climate in the American West, Death Valley, the Raven has often been the only bird present. I've seen them in practically every environment I've explored. The birds have thrived alongside humans and are considered pests in a few quarters, but I've always admired their intelligence and creativity.

I was at Yosemite National Park this weekend and I saw dozens of them, but one stood out, the star in the picture above. It was at the edge of a meadow below El Capitan, and it allowed me to get some close shots before I realized it could care less about me and Mrs. Geotripper, because it turned out we were standing in front of a fast-food bag someone had left next to their car. As we moved on, the bird jumped down and started to work on the folded-up bag. It really wanted to know what was inside.

Photo by Mrs. Geotripper

Instead of just tearing it open, the bird used its beak and foot to unfold the top. It started to remove and inspect the trash within one piece at a time, but it felt uncomfortable putting its head all the way in for the deepest bits. Once again, instead of tearing it open, it simply grabbed a corner with its beak, and turned the bag upside down, spilling the contents. It scored a banana peel and one or two fries for its trouble. The bird displayed a rather organized approach to getting to its goal.

Some would insist the bird was spreading garbage about, but really, the humans had done the garbage spreading. It was just making sure that none of the food inside was going to waste...