Beyond the turkeys was a Loggerhead Shrike. A Greater Roadrunner pranced along a berm. Further along flocks of Western Bluebirds flew off from their perch on a power line as we approached. Beyond them three Sandhill Cranes foraged serenely. Pine Siskins gorged themselves on dry sunflower seed-heads, while a Red-tailed Hawk sat majestically on the top of a snag across the road. Say’s Phoebes and American Kestrels patrolled the fields.
We were stunned when we approached a field full of red jalapeno-sized peppers.
When we joined the others at the Visitors Center, they were focused on the trees just off the viewing porch. I later learned that several had seen a White-throated Sparrow foraging with the White-crowned Sparrows.
We headed into the refuge and started exploring the two-way road between the Marsh and Farm Loops. It was a beautiful fall day and warm enough that we didn’t need a jacket. Everywhere we looked were the shimmering gold leaves of the cottonwood trees. In fact, it was warm enough that a few mosquitoes had come out of hibernation and an occasional yellow jacket buzzed uncomfortably close.
We saw the first of many Northern Harriers coursing over the marsh. Two Great Egrets stood in frozen watch on the edges, while Mallards, American Wigeons, Gadwalls, American Coots and Buffleheads swam lazily.
“There are some gulls in the middle of the waterfowl,” someone said. After studying them, we determined they were Bonaparte’s Gulls – eight of them.
“There is a large raptor down at the end of the service road,” someone alerted us. All the scopes focused on it. A Golden Eagle – enjoying a mid-morning meal.
A Marsh Wren called from the underbrush.
We ate lunch on the Eagle Scout Deck while we watched the Snow Geese, waterfowl and Sandhill Cranes just below. A few of the cranes flew in closer offering us a better look.Our next stop was the Marsh Deck, where we gazed at an Immature Bald Eagle perched mid-pond on a bare snag.
“Probably a 2nd year,” Rebecca offered, referring to her identification guidelines for eagles at each step of maturity.
Northernn Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, and more Buffleheads and Gadwalls occupied the pond below the eagle.
“I hear a flicker,” Sondra stated.
We next stopped at a break in the foliage to check out some grebes – Westerns.
Further along, we walked out onto the Boardwalk. Red-winged Blackbirds were silhouetted against the dry cattails. Painted Turtles basked in the sun.
The group got a better view of the grebes.Just beyond the bend, we stopped at one of the seasonal ponds crowded with light geese.
“Definitely, Ross’s Geese,” trip leader Sei told us. They definitely were smaller and lacked the black lips. A few gray juveniles and blue morphed adults were part of the flock.
Two Ring-billed Gulls swam nearby and three Cattle Egrets were in the tall grass just beyond.
This year’s tour route followed the alternative route that is more in open country. Just before the road rejoined the regular route, we stopped to search for pipits in some freshly plowed fields. The area was just beginning to fill with water and there were both Killdeer and American Pipits.
“Ring-necked Pheasant,” Lou signaled through the two-way radio a little further along.
There was not much activity along the Farm Loop. A couple of Sandhill Cranes tiptoed across the edge of an irrigation ditch. Northern Flickers flashed their red feather shafts as they flew between the trees.
The cranes at the north end of the farm loop foraged way out, while a flock of mule deer grazed nearby.
We gathered on the Flight Deck in mid-afternoon where hundreds of dabblers were feeding – all with their heads under water. We went over the list for the day and were delighted that 75 species had been seen.