Here are more photos from my recent travels ooo-ing and ahh-ing at wintering birds in California’s Central Valley. On two occasions, I was lucky to get close to red-tailed hawks.
Red-tailed hawk at Merced National Wildlife Refuge
Red-tailed hawk at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
For many years, I’ve traveled to the Llano Seco Unit of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s North Central Valley Wildlife Area. It’s a reliable place to find graceful sandhill cranes. In the past, I’ve visited in the afternoons and have spotted a few cranes in the distance or flying overhead. This time on my solo overnight trip, I decided to bundle up in my warm layers and go early in the morning instead. What a difference that made.
With no people around to spook them, there were more than 100 greater sandhill cranes cooing to each other, and they didn’t seem to mind my presence as long as I was quiet and moved slowly. Visiting Llano Seco is usually a relatively short visit, spotting a few cranes and enjoying the usual crowd of colorful ducks. But this time, the company of so many cranes was mesmerizing as I enjoyed the place without other people there. It wasn’t until I got in my car to leave that I realized I’d been staring in awe for two hours.
For those of you who geek out on species identification, I have to say I’m not good at telling the difference between greater and lesser sandhill cranes. Llano Seco’s website says the place is home to the greater variety, so that’s how I know.
Greater sandhill crane with ducks and geese at Llano Seco
Finally, here is a series of images of northern pintails taken on various trips this winter. I find these ducks incredibly beautiful, so I kept snapping away. With their blue and black striped bills, brown heads with a white flourish stretching upward from their chests, extended tail feathers, and streaked profile, they look like artwork that someone sculpted.
Pintail pair at Llano Seco
Resting on the bank
Cruising along in the sunshine
These two seemed to be having a dispute
A common position—butt up while feeding
I stumbled upon this homemade sign on a dirt road through the agricultural fields. Clearly one of the locals appreciates the pintails, too.