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.

Greater White-fronted Geese

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

Dowitcher Mass Flight

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.

Colusa National Wildlife Refuge

Still very much missing from that image is the sound you hear. I’ve been experimenting with video a bit as well but my technique still needs works, but you can get a sense of it from this short piece.

If you’re curious about these experiments, keep an eye on my Youtube channel.

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.

And this one for a desktop or an iPad…

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.

Sandhill Crane in flight, Isenberg Crane Refuge

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.

Cackling Goose Flock in flight

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.

One final image and some thoughts about it

A special note about this image. As I was driving the tour route, I came across this section of reeds completely covered with spiderwebs (these look to be the strings newly hatched spiders use to ride the winds to their new homes) with the light coming through them. I’m not sure this is a great photos but I think it starts to show off just how amazing those areas looked to me. But there’s a different aspect to this photo: it’s been no secret I’ve been in a funk with my photography for various reasons, but in the last few months I’ve been feeling a new enthusiasm for it again, and this image is the kind of thing that’s coming out of that positive change. I can honestly say that a year ago I would have seen this shot and not taking it, because I needed to focus on my goal — the birds. And six months ago, I simply wouldn’t have seen this shot at all. And now, coming out of that funk, I’m again exploring these kinds of things and having a great time, even when the experiments fail and you never see them…

Spider Webs in the breeze

More photography soon!