You can see all of the photos from this trip on Flickr.

In mid-November I did a quick overnight trip and visited Colusa and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges in the Williams area of Northern California. These are a couple of favorite refuges, but it’s 2.5 hours of driving each way to get to them from my place, and while I can day trip that, staying overnight gives me a much better ratio of photography vs. driving time.

Both of these refuges support large numbers of geese — especially Greater White-Fronted and Snow Geese — as well as ducks and other species. Sacramento NWR also has a nice variety of raptors including eagles and Peregrine Falcons, and although I know people have been seeing bald eagles there, I missed them this trip.

Oh, and masses of shorebirds, like these flocks of dowitchers that would occasionally mass fly

I’ve been trying to think of ways to help people see and understand what visiting a National Refuge is like, and one thing I’ve started doing is panorama images that help show the space as you’d see it standing there looking across the area. I particularly like this one from Colusa that I think starts to give a feeling of what it’s like coming upon a flock of 10,000+ Snow and Ross’s Geese hanging out together. The small version doesn’t really do it justice, but it’s amazing to look at the full size (about 11,000 x 2500 pixels) and zoom in and scroll around. You can look at that here.

It was a nice trip, a chance to unplug, and I got some nice images out of it. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Staten Island

On the way home I made a stop at Staten Island which is near Lodi. It’s near Consumnes River Preserve and the Woodbridge Road birding area and Isenberg Crane Refuge, and the three locations make a great day trip if you want to get out and see these kind of birds in winter — you really want to plan a Sunset at Isenberg some time.

Staten Island is a Nature Conservancy managed land that is used for agriculture during the spring and summer and managed to support migrating birds in the fall and winter. You’ll typically find sandhill cranes here but Staten Island is the winter home for a large percentage of the population of Cackling Geese that nest and breed in Alaska. These are similar to but smaller than the more common Canada Goose, and the flocks — tens and twenty thousands of them — return to this area every winter, and I always try to find time to get out to this location once or twice a season to see what I can do with them.

One big worry about Staten Island: part of the plan if California ever builds their big Water Tunnel project is to take over by eminent domain about a third of this location for a maintenance facility for one of the Tunnel entry points. Obviously the Nature Conservancy is against this and is fighting the idea, but if this ever happens it’s going to massively disrupt for years and possibly destroy this habitat. Besides the fact that the tunnels are in general a terrible idea, the impact this could have on the species dependent on this place for their survival is scary. It’s a very important place for the support of these winter migrating species and tearing it apart for the construction would be devastating.

Tundra Swan, Staten Island, California

Great Blue Heron, Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, California

Peregrine Falcon, Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, California

Greater White-fronted Geese, Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, California

Spider Webs in the breeze, Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, California

Gadwall, Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, California

Dowitcher Mass Flight, Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, California

Moon over Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, California

Dowitcher Mass Flight, Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, California

Cackling Goose Flock in flight, Staten Island, California

Cackling Geese landing, Staten Island, California

Ross’s Geese, Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, California

More photography soon!