I took Amtrak from Salem to Sacramento, rented a car at dawn and birded some of the hotspots in Yolo and Solano Counties. First stop: Yolo Causeway. A shipment of Yellow-headed Blackbirds had just arrived. A female red-wing on territory:
Their cousins, the Western Meadowlark, were singing their spring melody. With my window rolled down I could this bird’s song. He never opened his mouth. The music came straight through is throat from the larynx, the feathers on his throat moved slightly with the changing notes and volume. Our meadowlark’s song is short and ethereal, the sound of grasslands awakening to spring and hormones beginning to deliver an insistent message. That message in part says “there is life beneath the waving stalks of grass, and it is persistent.”
There were small groups of White-faced Ibis in the marshes.
The most abundant ducks were Shovelers and Canvasbacks.
The most abundant species were the hundreds of Red-winged Blackbirds and the thousands of Coots. The blackbirds are settling in to nest, while the Coots will soon leave for their breeding range further north and east, leaving the pools to seem quiet and relatively lifeless. One waterbird that was beginning its spring calling was the Pied-billed Grebe. Its loud hiccup calls coming from the edge of the cattails. During this breeding season the adult grebes show a distinct black line across the beak, that line fades at the end of each summer.
Shovelers and Long-billed Dowitchers stand about the same height so they could share a mud bar beneath a shallow spot in this pond:
The air above the Yolo Bypass marshes were criss-crossed by hundreds of Tree Swallows.
At the nearby headquarters for the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area there is a stand of trees and small ponds. Here the Scrub-Jays were in charge and they made that pronouncement often and officiously. Nearly as visible was the local Mockingbird, a species that moved into Northern California in the mid-20th Century taking advantage of manmade habitat with lots of exotic plants and fruit.
A flock of at least 100 Cedar waxwings came into the headquarters gardens as well. They harvested buds and bugs with equal energy.
North east of Davis I checked out the Davis Wetlands, an extensive city-owned park next to the regional landfill and sewer plant. Ducks on the sewer ponds, of course. Shoveler, Ruddies, Canvasbacks. The onto the levees where a large flock of hundreds of ibis were working the plowed ground.
Snowy Egrets hunted the roadside.
The only male Harrier for my day coursed back and forth near my car.
My next birding stop was at Rockville Hill Park west of Fairfield. A large dark bird silently labored across the treetops while I tried to get a view, probably a Raven from the way it flapped its wings, but it disappeared over the steep hilltop while I was too slow and earthbound to follow. Only one other bird species could I find: Acorn Woodpeckers.
The wildflowers in this remnant oak chaparral were profuse, over a dozen species in bloom after a welcomed rain winter. Some were even native plants. Ithuriel’s spear, California poppy, miners’ lettuce, wild mustard, wild radish, numerous yellow composites, short blue-and-white lupines:
The deciduous oaks among the more numerous live oaks were putting on their soft green spring foliage. The California buckeye were fully leafed out, but the blooms had not begun to appear. It was cool and overcast so I saw no sign of insect life.
From there I went to Hwy 37 between Vallejo and Novato, the mudflats always providing plenty of action. There were plenty of birds along the levee-top trail at Cullinan Ranch. White-tailed Kite. Harrier. Great Egret. Ducks aplenty. Eared Grebe. 1.6 zillion Coots, Ravens, Double-crested Cormorants, a single pair of Common Goldeneye. A shifting, nervous mass of Western Sandpipers, their ancient messaging system beginning to say “fly away, flay away.”
The Belted Kingfisher kept his distance and his deserved reputation for being hard to photograph. A Black Phoebe also refused to let me near enough for a good image,
My only disappointment of the day was my lunchtime stake-out at an empty lot near Mace and I-80 in east Davis where Burrowing Owls have been seen recently, but the cold, overcast weather probably kept them to their warm, dry burrows. In an hour I saw only one ground squirrel at the site.