Spring is bustin’ out all over the Sacramento Valley. We’ve said farewell to the geese, swans, and cranes who spend their winters here. Now, we’ve got our binocs trained on the resident birds showing off their glorious breeding plumage while singing and dancing their hearts out in their annual fertility waltz, and on the migrants gorging themselves on the Valley’s bounty in preparation for the rest of their journey to their breeding grounds further north.
Note: lineatus is on a birding adventure this weekend but will be back next Saturday for Dawn Chorus at the usual time and place.
At this time of the year, we start with the Dawn Chorus but someone is singing at almost any time of the day (or night in the case off those show-off Northern Mockingbirds) so it’s more of an All-Day Chorus.
A Red-winged Blackbird flashing his epaulets.
A Marsh Wren perches in the open to sing.
Funny thing about birds at this time of the year is how much less timid they are than at other times. Birds that would normally fly long before we get very close now seem so pre-occupied with the season that they provide wonderful photo opportunities.
White-faced Ibises, showing off their breeding plumage and facial coloring, let us get within 20-30 ft for photos.
American Avocets aren’t the least bit bashful while performing their post-coital do-si-do across the dance floor – even with an American Coot and a couple of humans watching.
And Killdeer start nesting in any gravel they can find, even if it’s in a parking lot with cars zipping by (yikes).
BTW – we marked this Killdeer’s nest with a traffic cone that we found in the weeds next to the parking lot – hope it helped.
As for migrants, the Sacramento Valley is part of the Pacific Flyway so large numbers of shorebirds pass through the Valley on their way to the Arctic or other points north for the summer breeding season. Birds that show up include Semipalmated Plovers, Western Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, and Red-necked and Wilson’s Phaloropes. Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlins, and Dowitchers, who spend their winters here but leave the Valley before the onset of summer heat, generally molt into their breeding plumage before they depart. Beautiful.
I only have a couple of shorebird photos to share. The first is a Greater Yellowlegs all decked out for the season.
And here’s a blurry photo of a female Ruff, called a Reeve. I’m only including it because, according to Sibley, it’s a "rare but regular Eurasian visitor" that we were very excited to find a couple of weeks ago.
If you’d like to see some really nice photos of Ruffs, click here.
I haven’t even mentioned warblers and hummingbirds, or other migrants that come here to breed (Western Kingbirds and Swainson's Hawks to name two). Suffice it to say that a Spring day (or two - or more) spent birding in the Sacramento Valley would be well-spent.
"So," you ask, "where do I point myself to see some of this Spring Bird Madness?" I live in Woodland, about 25 miles west-northwest of Sacramento, so I’ll highlight a few of my favorite nearby spots:
• One of the best is the Yolo Basin Foundation’s Yolo Wilderness Area (called the Vic Fazio Wildlife Area in the Pacific Flyway link, above; how to get there). There is an amazing variety of birds here (this is where we saw the Reeve) all year really – except when the whole place is flooded in the winter. It’s only about 10 minutes from my office so I can stop by for an hour or two after work now that we’re on daylight savings time.
• The Colusa Unit of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge is where we’ve done the Great Backyard Bird Count for a couple of years – seventy-one species this year. You could also see deer, coyotes, and river otters on any given day.
• The Gray Lodge State Wildlife Area is in a beautiful setting, with views of the Sutter Buttes and lots of walking trails. (Note for next winter – great area for Sandhill Cranes).
• Finally, given that the Sacramento Valley is designated as an Internationally Significant Shorebird Habitat, there are birding opportunities along many roads up and down the Valley, especially in areas with rice fields, almost any time of the year. The maps and indexes in these links (Northern Sacramento Valley Birding Hotspots, The Natomas Basin Conservancy Map) highlight many local, state, and Federal Wilderness areas along with roads where you can expect to see the birds highlighted above, among many more.
So has Spring sprung where you are yet?