Sacramento Natl. Wildlife Refuge 2022

Our day last week at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge was another bonanza of wildlife, a particularly exciting adventure in the middle of winter.

The enormous number of birds is what keeps things so interesting. It is a 10,819-acre (43.78 sq. km.) wetland expanse; a wintering home to hundreds of thousands of migrating geese, ducks and other waterfowl.

The Northern California migration typically lasts from November through January, depending on the weather.

The most predominate goose species every year is the Snow Goose. They come from Wrangell Island in Siberia (U.S.S.R.) and spend the winter here in our milder climate.

This year there were also several hundred Ross’s geese.

And thousands of White-fronted Geese.

What we saw were waves and waves of white geese flying in all different directions.

What we heard was the most magnificent cacophony of honking and squawking.

This is a good representational recording: Click here for Snow Geese flock cacophony.

There are also many duck species who winter in the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.

Last week the major duck species was the Northern Shovelers. Last month, according to the Survey Summary, there were a lot of pintail ducks. It varies depending on the month and weather.

Northern Shovelers (Spatula clypeata) have similar coloring to mallards, but their namesake shovel-shaped bills easily distinguish them. They can often be seen swinging their spatulate bills from side to side in the water as they strain aquatic vegetation, plankton, and tiny invertebrates.

We often saw the Shovelers like this…

…but just as often like this.

The geese and ducks are only part of the refuge extravaganza, for there are also songbirds, shorebirds, waders, gulls, grebes, woodpeckers, raptors and other birds.

Here a white-faced ibis joined the northern shovelers. Tall bird in center with the long bill.

We spotted this adult and immature pair of bald eagles early on our auto tour (photo below). From this distance it looks like two dots in the tallest tree.

We knew we would get a better look at them as we progressed down the road.

At times we heard them calling out–a screeching sound.

And eventually we came closer.

The adult was easier to spot due to the characteristic white head.

It takes 4-5 years for a bald eagle to reach maturity, acquire the white head and tail. Prior to that there are many stages of maturation.

The immature bald eagle (below) still had a gray bill and a dark head, so is probably around 2-3 years old.

The young eagle’s flying was accomplished, and we enjoyed watching him/her swoop over the ducks, practicing bravado. The ducks scattered in a flutter of wingbeats when the young eagle came near.

We spotted western meadowlarks numerous times that day. They brighten up the brown landscape with their vivacious yellow markings, and even more bright is their song. A magical fluty series of notes.

We have always seen an interesting array of mammals here too. This year we saw nearly a dozen black-tailed jackrabbits, a striped skunk and a ground squirrel.

Two years ago we came upon a trio of river otters in one of the water-filled ditches. They were having a grand time catching fish, and the feeding frenzy lasted at least a half-hour.

Reptiles also joined last week’s fracas. First there were two western pond turtles on a log. Soon a third and then a fourth climbed onto the same log.

Throughout the whole turtle encounter, I noticed there was one who kept opening its mouth wide. You can see it in this photo, third from the left.

Come to think of it, it seems like all these wildly beautiful creatures seemed to have their mouths open that day. The geese were honking, mallards laughing uproariously, the bald eagles were screeching and the meadowlarks were warbling.

Made me want to sing too.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

88 thoughts on “Sacramento Natl. Wildlife Refuge 2022

  1. Great information and photos, as always! LOL about all the creatures with their mouths open – sing away! The pair of bald eagles and all the other animals, so lovely! It’s snowing here today so I am also a Northern Shoveler! 🀣😘😘

  2. How delightful!! That is one of my favorite wildlife refuges as it rarely disappoints.
    The otters were so cute, and the recording of the Snow Geese was awesome. It’s an amazing cacophony of sound.
    I loved your ending sentences about how you felt like singing too. Love that!!

    • I love knowing that you have travelled the auto tour roads here, Deborah, and from now on whenever I am this refuge I will think of you. I’m glad you took the time to listen to the sound byte, especially because I know you have experienced this remarkable sound in person. Thanks, too, for your kind words about the ending sentence. Cheers to you, and happy birding.

  3. Honking great fun! What an adventure, and so much to enjoy. I laughed at the shoveler photo, very amusing. I always think the juvenile bald eagles look rather unkempt, embracing an unruly teenager air…
    Thanks to you both for this noisy and colourful celebration of a diverse wildlife wonder!

  4. Loved each variety seen, Jet! I was checking off in my mind on each photo of this refuge compared to my local mid-Atlantic Eastern Neck NWR presently and was good except for the Glossy Ibis and then next the Jackrabbits. 😁 Of course, the otters and turtles are nowhere to be seen right now for us. I thought that was interesting comparison! I wish we had large numbers of the White-fronted Goose, I am looking for that one locally, sightings are usually one in a flock of Canada Geese. I’ve never seen/photographed one before. But we do have massive flocks of Snow Geese, I’ve experienced some recent snow globes right over me!

    • I enjoyed hearing about your sightings at the Eastern Neck NWR in comparison to the Sacramento NWR, Donna. We’ve had more and more of the white-fronted geese in the past few years. They live in the Yukon Delta when it’s not winter. And I remember your snow globes with great fondness. Always fun to share the birds with you, Donna, thank you very much.

  5. Sounds like a great birding time – “magnificent cacophony of honking and squawking” – that is an excellent description of those snow geese “gatherings”. That combined with the visual when they all take flight is a site behold. Thanks for sharing.

    • I’m going to have to disagree with you on that one, Jo. With all the loved ones you speak of, fun times and adventurous walks, and your huge following of blog followers, I think you would probably be one of those migrating birds leading the big “V” formation. lol. Many thanks, and great to see you today.

    • Yes, it really is incredible to be at this enormous refuge, Eliza. It is labelled a “Complex” and has several additional refuges within a 20-mile radius. It’s a wonderful place, I hope you do get a chance to see it someday. In the winter is the best time, when it’s loaded with migrants. Thanks so much.

  6. What a great collection of feathered friends and a black tail bunny. You should always sing when the opportunity presents itself

    • I am so glad, HJ, that you enjoyed our wildlife friends at the Sacramento NWR. I went to your link and responded, and thank you so much for providing it. Sending you my warmest wishes, HJ.

  7. A pleasure to read and gaze upon–as usual! Thanks for that tour. I am anxiously awaiting a re-opening of a NW national wildflife refuge (with scores of birds and reptiles and other creatures, too) I love in WA. state. Maybe by summer, as there was much work being done.

    • Hi Cynthia, it was great to have you stop by today, thanks so much. I’m happy you enjoyed the tour of the Sacramento NWR and I hope that yours in WA will re-open soon. I know that ours in Sacramento has a very sophisticated canal and irrigation system and it is quite complicated, but very effective. So whatever work is being done on your WA NWR is probably equally as wonderful and worth waiting for. Many thanks.

  8. What a joy this post was, Jet! Seeing the goose blizzard in your header would have been enough. Then the Ross’s and White-fronted batch as well. My cup runeth over…
    What surprised me is that you have a glimpse of Shasta in the background. My sense of geography is pretty warped. We got to see my first goose blizzard at the Klamath NWR with Shasta in the background. I had to look at a map to see how Shasta could possibly show up from both spots. It’s the distance from Sac to Shasta that made it seem so improbable. But there you have it!!! Seems I always learn something when I visit.Β 

    To top it all off, there’s the shots of the otter. Yay! Athena. I bet she was thrilled with that one.
    That closing shot of the snow goose parade was a great way to wrap it up. What an utterly delightful post! πŸ€—πŸ’ž

    • Always a joy to hear from you, Gunta, thanks so much. I enjoyed hearing about your Shasta discovery and the map revelation. We never forget our first goose blizzards, do we. I like that term. Donna, another mutual friend in blogging, calls it a “snow globe,” and I like that term too. It is such a magnificent spectacle, the goose migration, we should have as many terms as possible for it. I’ve been to Klamath, once years ago in winter. We went to see the bald eagles and were absolutely amazed. Counted 48 in one visit! Cheers to you, Gunta, and our shared joy in the bliss of birds and wildlife and wilderness.

    • Hi Sherry, yes the Sacramento NWR has a driving tour. It is six miles long. It has three stop-and-stretch areas where you can get out of your car, and one multi-level platform about half-way through. There are add’l. smaller refuges in the area. One, called Colusa (10 or 20 miles away) also has a driving tour and has a viewing deck that is popular with amateur and professional photographers for its natural lighting and proximity to the birds. You would love it here. Sending smiles your way, and thanks.

  9. The great variety of life that flourishes in some precious parts of our globe
    not only strike and hold our interest but nourish us as well.
    Your incredible photos present us with a great idea of just how wonderful life
    really is! Thank you for sharing them Jet. Hugs with love, Eddie

    • I so enjoyed your words here, Eddie, thanks so very much. I think of it as my duty to share the beauties of wildlife and wilderness, along with many millions of other outdoor adventurers and environmentalists, in my lifelong effort of working to protect and preserve earth and its natural inhabitants. You are right, the great variety of life that flourishes on earth is a very nurturing tool for us humans. And how very rewarding it is for me to share it with you and receive it from you on your site. Big smiles and thanks, dear Eddie.

  10. Such an excellent post Jet! I really enjoyed reading about this wonderful place and agree with Eliza, I’d like to get there someday too. There’s something about the word “cacophony” isn’t there? The recording was like finding a little hidden gem in the midst of your post. Loved it. (also the photos are beautiful as always)

    • Dear Sylvia, I am smiling from your kind words. It was a great honor to share this magnificent place in the world with you, and how wonderful to have the ability to share a sound clip too. I’m glad you took a moment to listen to it. And yes, there is something about the word “cacophony.” I used it even for the link because there’s no other way to describe the sounds but with this one marvelous word. For 31 yrs we have been trekking to this valley to witness the migration, and every single visit is a spirit-lifting marvel. A pleasure to share it with you, my friend. Thanks so much for your visit and words.

  11. You bring the sights and sounds and experience so vividly to us, I ALWAYS feel as if I’ve accompanied you on this journey! I loved the Snow Geese marching together in formation at the end, too… marching along to the Symphony of Nature.

    • Oh so fun to share the splendor of the Sacramento NWR with you, dear Nan. Even though you have heard my enthusiastic reports on this place every year for 31 years, you still embrace them as if it was the first time. This gives me much joy. I love that photo of the three marching snow geese too. My love and thanks.

    • Yes, the northern shovelers are fun to watch, aren’t they, BJ? They seemed to be sleeping and grooming a lot that day, but Athena did a good job of capturing some photos when they were more lively. I am so very glad you enjoyed the bonanza (your word, which I liked a lot). Thanks very much.

      • I happened to see a lot of Northern Shovelers just today at Merritt Island NWR. I do think they spend more time with their tails in the air than they do with their heads in the air!πŸ˜…

  12. I love the Northern Shovelers, and all the other ‘tail-tippers.’ We don’t seem to have quite so many this year in the refuges where I’ve found great numbers in the past, but I suspect it’s due to water depth; they probably are in other areas without public access. Their scientific name always makes me laugh.

    Everyone loves the snow geese, I think. Seeing yours reminded me of one of my own favorite lines in a blog post; I once described the sound of cars in a pre-Christmas shopping mall parking lot as the “honking of a thousand demented geese.”

    Around here, the White-Fronted geese are commonly known as ‘speckle bellies,’ or ‘specks.’ I don’t see them in the refuges much. I think the tend to be north and east of me, as do the river otters. It’s wonderful to see such great photos of the birds I rarely see, and to be reminded of all we do share!

    • Wonderful to read of your duck and goose thoughts and experiences, Linda. We are lucky to have such an abundance of these waterfowl on our planet, and how glorious that you and many of our fellow humans love them so much. My warmest thanks.

  13. What a gorgeous refuge! I love the way the mountains are such a beautiful backdrop to your awesome pictures!
    Snow geese always get my attention because we don’t see them around here, but they remind me of fairy tales I read as a child. Oh, and that jackrabbit looks so vulnerable (but probably isn’t!). I just want to sweep it up and protect it from that eagle.

    • I am happy you enjoyed this vicarious visit to the Sacramento NWR, Julie. I’ve been thinking of you this week with all the snow and ice in Mass. I hope you are doing okay. Thanks very much for stopping by.

  14. A wonderful post, Jet and Athena. Those geese sure make a lot of noise. Snow geese en masse do have a magical quality about them We only get a couple of Egyptian geese at a time here, and still the neighbors complain. Interesting info about the bald eagle. They definitely get better looking as they mature. Your dear ducks did make me smile too. I love the jackrabbits’ ears……very sticky-uppy. πŸ™‚ Thanks for a lovely read and the amazing photos.

  15. Pingback: Sacramento Natl. Wildlife Refuge 2022 β€” Jet Eliot |

  16. What a lovely celebratory post. The photos are lovely but it must be awesome to be actually there amidst such activity and sound. Judging from the sound clip you provide the link to it must be a pretty intense experience. The geese and ducks and all the other birds are marvelous and how wonderful to see the otters feeding so successfully. I was interested too in the long-legged jackrabbit..

    • So wonderful to have you stop by, Carol, thank you. That you called it a “celebratory” post was nice, because that’s just how it feels when we visit. There is so much to celebrate at the Sacramento NWR–the successful migration, the abundance of waterfowl, and the humans who have kept it all up decade after decade. Thanks so much for your interest and joy in joining me here.

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