Memories of Sacramento NWR

American Bittern - Botaurus lentiginosusMy first visit to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge was December 2002. Winter is an interesting time of the year to visit any of the reserves in the Sacramento or San Joaquin River valleys. For this is the season when waterfowl by the millions come to stay until spring calls them back north. Since that introductory meeting, I’ve spent time there in January 2003, May 2011, December 2011, September 2017, and most recently January 2019.

Water management seems to be a challenge for the reserves in California. Fields here are dry and weedy all summer, but are transformed into shallow, open water lakes in late Autumn to host migrating ducks and geese. Water supplies in the state are limited by the demands of industry and overpopulation. This dynamic was made clear to me when I visited in September of 2017, and the ponds I expected to find were only fields of dry weeds. What little water there was, had been occupied by hundreds of Northern Pintails and not the thousands of white geese I’d hoped for. I visited three reserves that day. Sacramento and Colusa NWRs (both federally run) were mostly void of water and the waterfowl I’d hoped to find. It wasn’t until I reached Gray Lodge, a state run reserve, that I found ample water and a good supply of ducks and geese to enjoy.

In December 2011, I was touring the National Wildlife Refuges of California’s Central Valley. The trip was memorable because it was then that I met my first American Bittern. To be fair, my first meeting was at Merced NWR on December 27, and I returned two days later to spend more time with the bird. But on December 31, I found the bittern again at Sacramento NWR. What can I say? When it rains it pours.

The gallery below shows some of the favorite moments I had visiting this location.

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