Monday, December 19, 2011

Merced National Wildlife Refuge

After spending the morning at San Luis National Wildlife Refuge we headed to the Merced Unit.
While Hubby napped, I took my camera up to the viewing platform.  It wasn't nap time in this pond, it was feeding time.  It can be hard to id birds with their heads in the water but I believe we have some Dunlin and a pair of Cinnamon Teals.
Another birder called my attention to this guy, saying it is a common snipe.  I'll take her word for it.  Even with all of my field guides I am often unsure of shore bird id.  To my eye many are quite similar and the field marks subtle.  Identification often falls to a single characteristic and juveniles may not display it.
From the viewing platform my attention was drawn to a very different sight.  This cowman had roped a calf, I think he was trying to tag it.  His well trained quarter horse kept the rope tight.
Back to birding, I spotted the Cinnamon Teal with his head out of the water.  I like that splash of color on his back and his red eye.
When nap time was over, we headed out on the auto tour.  There was an amazing variety.  The Northern Shoveler picked his head up out of the water just long enough for me to get a shot of his large bill and blue-green head.
We ran into a road block.  A flock of White Faced Ibis were reluctant to leave the road.  I know, they don't have a white face but the guides say they will in breeding season.  Nearby was a huge flock of Sandhill Cranes.  They were backlit,  though and the image I shared last week from San Luis was much better.
I spotted over a dozen birds in these tules and another flying by.  What were they?

Black Crowned Night Herons, both mature and immature.

The same pond was host to a flock of American White Pelicans.
I think Pintails are elegant looking birds and this one seems to agree.  Doesn't he look self satisfied?
We saw another one floating with a flock of Snow Geese.

It was a wonderful day of birding and wildlife viewing.  I hope to return before the season is over, but then, there are a lot more refuges in California to explore.

You can see more of our amazing world by going to Our World, Tuesday, hosted for us each week by Arija, Gattina, Lady Fi, Sylvia and Sandy.
To see more birds, check out World Bird, Wednesday, hosted by Springman.

Monday, December 12, 2011

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

The coast and Central Valley of California are on the Pacific Flyway, the migratory route for many species of birds.  Some birds stop and rest in California before heading further south,  others think it is a fine resort and stay all winter.

San Luis NWR serves a double purpose, it is host to many birds but more importantly it is the home of a herd of Tule Elk.
Tule Elk are the smallest subspecies of elk and native to California.  Once numbering in the 100s of thousands, their numbers dropped to 28 know individuals before measures were taken to protect them.  

San Luis was host to the first herd and now there are several more in the central valley as well as the coastal mountains and Point Reyes National Seashore.  There is also a herd in the Owens Valley which I saw often as we traveled up and down Highway 395.

The Owens Valley herd roams freely over land owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power so I was a bit surprised to see the elk penned in by a high fence.  I suppose it is not surprising, the farmers nearby probably don't want the elk grazing on their crops.

Since we visited in early December, the bulls were no longer with the cows.  They still have their antlers, though, they won't loose them until February.  The bull elk were near the fence where we could get a good look and poke our lenses through the wire.

The cows and calves, however,  were out in the center of the enclosure so even my telephoto lens couldn't get a very good shot.  It did look like there was one bull still with them.

There was not as much bird life as we would see later at the Merced Unit but I did get my best shot to date of a kestrel.  He flew from fence post to fence post as we drove along, keeping his eye on us from over his shoulder.

Isn't he cute?

The Ruddy Duck's blue gray bill will turn a brilliant blue come breeding season.

Several female Northern Harriers scanned the ground looking for a meal.  You can just glimpse this one's distinguishing white rump where it wraps around her flank.
We kept looking for Sandhill Cranes, we could hear their distinctive call and knew they were around somewhere.
  There!  We finally spotted a small flock.

On our way out of the refuge I spotted this belted kingfisher.  So far this is the best shot I have gotten of the species.  Actually, it is the only shot.  I've seen them several times but they are shy and fly off before I can get my camera up.

We also saw gadwalls, northern shovelers, black necked stilts, coots and mallards.  We had been told that there was a better variety of birds at the Merced unit so after a picnic lunch we headed there, about 20 miles away.

See more views of our wonderful world at Our World, Tuesday; hosted for us by Arija, Gattina, Lady Fi, Sylvia and Sandy.

See more of the world or birds at World Bird Wednesday, hosted for us by Springman.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Who Said Birds Are Nice

Hubby and I have been away, in search of photos.  Now I have around 400 to sort through!  These reminded me of an essay we once read.  A lady, who should have known better, said people should be more peaceful, like birds.
I saw avocets feeding in the tidelands north of San Pablo Bay.
The bird on the right obviously didn't like the other bird invading its feeding territory.
Nothing like kicking a guy when he's down!
Once he felt he'd made his point, he turned and walked away.
The interloper beat a hasty retreat.
Seeing the behavior of animals is, for me, the most interesting part of wildlife viewing.

See more of our wonderful world at Our World, Tuesday, hosted for us by Arija, Gattina, Lady Fi, Sylvia
and Sandy.
and Watery Wednesday (thought more muddy than watery)
View more of the birds in our amazing world at World Bird Wednesday, hosted for us by Springman.

Where did I find these birds?  Here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Silly Goose!

We haven't been getting very far from home lately so my photography has been limited to my own community.  Fortunately, I can usually find something to shoot (with camera).  With photography in mind, we went to one of the ponds and found some very obliging birds.
I hope you enjoyed this look at my part of our world.  See more of our world at
Graciously hosted for us each week by
Arija, Gattina, Lady Fi, Sylvia and Sandy

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sutter's Fort State Historic Park

Sutter's Fort is a recreation of the fort built by John Sutter in 1840.  A German born Swiss, Sutter secured a Mexican land grant of over 47,000 acres by becoming a Mexican citizen.  He sought to establish a self sufficient colony which he called New Helvetica (New Switzerland).
 He had a successful farming operation, growing barley, peas, beans and cotton in addition to wheat.  He raised cattle, sheep, horses and mules.
Carpentry shop
Grain mill
Blanket Factory
Of course, who could imagine a frontier outpost without whiskey?

Docents in period costume explain and demonstrate life at the fort.  Many displays have audio explanations that turn on when the visitor approaches.

Sutter's colony did not last long.  John Marshall's discovery of gold in 1848 at the lumber mill he ran for Sutter was the beginning of the end.  Sutter could not hold his land against the hordes of gold seekers that began coming to California in 1849 and the American courts did not recognize his Mexican land grants. 

By 1860 all that remained of Sutter's Fort was the central building.  In 1890 the site was purchased by the Native Sons of the Golden West and reconstruction was started a year later based on a map that had been published in Germany in 1847.

Today the Fort is a living history museum, a place where school children can come and learn about life in 19th century California and get some hands on experience in some of the skill that were needed then.

This is one view of our amazing world, see other views at Our World, Tuesday, hosted for us by Arija, Gattina, Lady Fi, Sylvia and Sandy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Autumn is for the Birds

In the Summer I don't see much bird life around here.  Perhaps it is me, I don't like the heat and hide inside much of the time.  Now that the weather is cool, I'm outside and the birds are here, like old friends they have come to keep me company.  Here are some birds I have seen on my walks over the last week

The Spotted Towhee is not uncommon.  What is uncommon is to get a good shot.  Ground feeders, they are often seen in the shade and they scurry under some brush when I come near.  This one was catching some sun after a day of rain.

His cousin, the California Towhee

A Meadow Lark shows off his bright plumage.

I've shown you the Acorn Woodpecker, here is another woodpecker that frequents my community, the Northern Flicker.

Phoebes are flycatchers, they can often be seen hawking bugs out of the air.  This one is a Says Phoebe, we also see the Black Phoebe on our walks.

I noticed this ball of fluff perched on top of a branch.  I couldn't get a view of the entire bird, I think it is a Mockingbird but it is hard to be sure from this view.

Our numerous wetland areas offer a different variety of birds.  There are plenty of mallards, coots and Canada geese, but others are around as well.

It is not unusual to see an egret, either hunting in the grasslands or by a pond.  The cormorant has it's favorite snag, often this location is too backlit  for a good shot.

I think this little heron is a juvenile Green Heron.

I was pleased to get some great images of this Great Blue Heron.  He posed, stretched, fluffed his feathers and then flew away.  I got some great shots.

See more of our wonderful world at Our World, Tuesday; hosted for us by Arija, Gattina, Lady Fi, Sylvia and Sandy

See more birds at World Bird, Wednesday,  hosted by Springman.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sacramento National Wildlife Reuge

Knowing that Hubby's eye surgery would soon keep us tethered to our home, we took a trip up deep into the rice growing country of the Sacramento Valley.
Before Europeans came to California this was prime habitat for wildlife.  Migrating birds used it as a stopover and other waterfowl found it to be an ideal winter resort.
It is also prime agricultural land and the wildlands eventually became rice fields.  The birds thought the rice was a fine substitute for their natural food, the farmers didn't agree.

In 1937 the US Fish and Wildlife Service began to turn some dry alkaline land into wetlands.  Today there are 35,000 acres of wetlands and uplands and an additional 30,000 acres in conservation easements.The new wetlands help to lure the birds from the rice fields until after harvest.
There is a two mile walking trail and a much longer auto tour.  Except for two spots along the auto tour, visitors are required to stay in their vehicle. I saw Black necked stilts, pied-billed grebes, snow geese, white fronted geese, northern shovelers, American widgeons, cinnamon teals, gadwalls, American white pelicans to name just a few.  I was thrilled to see the heron with snake.
I spotted this creature sneaking across the pond.  I thought it was a beaver but when I downloaded the shot it was obvious that it was a raccoon.

We were pleased with the variety of bird life that we found at the complex headquarters but disappointed that there were no sandhill cranes.
We learned that the cranes could be found at the Llano Seco unit so the next day we went there.  Here the land was being flooded across the road from some rice fields.
See those hazy skies?  One problem for the photographer in the Sacramento Valley is the practice of burning the rice fields after harvest.  Day after day the sky is filled with smoke haze.

There were lots of geese and I could here the cranes but they were far away.  If you enlarge this shot you might be able to pick them out under the trees in the background.
Across the road, in the rice field there were many more but too far for a great shot.
Rice farmers with conservation easements flood their fields after harvest providing additional habitat.
I know that conservatives think government should do less, only spend money on things like war but it is my belief that our nation would be far poorer with a do nothing government.  Yes, we need farms and the food they provide but I don't think I would like to live in a world where the only animals were humans and their factory farmed meat animals.

See more of our amazing world at Our World, Tuesday, hosted for us by 
Arija, Gattina, Lady Fi, Sylvia and Sandy.
See more great birdlife at World Bird Wednesday, hosted by Springman

Now Hubby is spending 10 days in a head down position while his eye heals.  We're hoping that when he sees the doctor on Wednesday he will again be free to roam.