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  • Writer's pictureKaren Hogan

California NWR Trip August 2015

Updated: Dec 12, 2018

During our California National Wildlife Refuge Trip of December 2014 we visited and birded at 9 National Wildlife Refuges from Willows to San Diego, CA. Several National Wildlife Refuges that we planned to visit during the December 2014 Trip were inaccessible due to seasonal flooding including Sutter, Sacramento River and Salinas National Wildlife Refuges. Scheduling a National Wildlife Refuge Trip during the summer months gave us a chance to visit the National Wildlife Refuges that have seasonal flooding during the winter months. Teresa expressed interest in a Pelagic Trip with Debi Shearwater. Many of Debi Shearwater's Pelagic Trips are scheduled for the summer months, we signed up for 2 Pelagic Trips including Half Moon Bay and Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

Karen-Teresa-Rio Vista Unit-Sacramento River NWR, August 7, 2015

February 2015

February 2015 Teresa came to my house to observe the large flock of Pine Siskin visiting my yard. Feeding birds in my yard for 3 years I had first noticed Pine Siskin at my feeder January 2013 but was surprised when they didn't return January 2014. Due to seed crop availability, Pine Siskin is an irruptive species, abundant in an area one year and absent the next. Each day the flock of more than 100 individuals fed at my feeders several times, coming and going, flashing their yellow wings marks as they moved from my feeders to the deck. When I stepped outside my house I was greeted by a chorus of the insistent wheezy whine of these small brown streaked birds sitting in the high branches of my oak tree canopy. To keep the hungry flock fed I filled my feeders and covered the deck floor with hulled sunflower and Nyjer seed at least 3 times a day. Visitors only in the winter the Pine Siskin moves back north during the spring, inhabitant of coniferous or mixed coniferous-deciduous forests, they breed in central Alaska and northern Canada.

As Teresa and I observed the flock of Pine Siskin feeding in my yard we discussed our next National Wildlife Refuge Trip, Teresa mentioned she would like to bird with Debi Shearwater on one of her Pelagic Trips. Teresa had agree to go to California to help me babysit my Grandchildren the first weekend of August. It might just work for us to plan a Pelagic with Debi the weekend before or after the first weekend of August. Debi offered a Pelagic Trip to Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Teresa and I both have problems with seasickness but that did not stop us from planning to do 2 pelagic trips one on Saturday to Half Moon Bay and one the next day to Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. As we looked at flights to California we decided to give ourselves enough time to get back to Willows and Salinas to be able to bird at the National Wildlife Refuges that were inaccessible during our December 2014 Trip due to seasonal flooding.


July 30-August 5, 2015 Visiting with the Girards in Redwood City, CA

Teresa and I arrived at San Francisco Airport on Thursday July 30th. We both knew our way around the airport and rental car building after our December 2014 California National Wildlife Refuge Trip. We visited with my Daughter's family from July 30th until August 5th in the San Francisco Bay Area, including birding at the Egret Rookery at the Google Campus and Pebble Beach along the Pacific coast. Teresa and I babysat a couple of days during our visit for my 2 year Granddaughter and 6 year old Grandson while my Daughter and her husband went camping. Teresa and I headed to Willows, California on August 5th, we would spend the night in our favorite hotel in Willows the next 2 nights.


August 6, 2015 Sacramento, Delevan, Sutter and Colusa National Wildlife Refuge


Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

We were at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge first thing in the morning to bird during the summer season at this amazing Refuge.

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, August 6, 2015

The 6 mile auto drive through wetlands, grasslands, and a riparian area had additional areas open that are usually closed during the winter months. We observed 44 Clark's Grebes and 3 Western Grebes nesting and rearing young.

Clark's Grebe at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

Clark's Grebe at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

Clark's Grebe at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

Clark's Grebe at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

Clark's Grebe at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

Clark's Grebe at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

Clark's Grebe at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

Clark's Grebe at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

As we arrived at the multilevel viewing platform we realized the Refuge Manager was in the vehicle behind us.

Teresa-Refuge Manager-Karen at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

We had a great time discussing with him this amazing National Wildlife Refuge created to alleviate crop depredation. We spent 5 hours driving the 6 mile auto drive and reported 44 species of birds on our ebird checklist.

American White Pelican and Double-crested Cormorant at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

American White Pelican and Double-crested Cormorant at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

Black Phoebe at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

Say's Phoebe at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

Raccoon at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

Otters at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

Damsel fly at Sacramento NWR, August 6, 2015

Visiting Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge during the summer months reminds us of our goal to bird at all 566 National Wildlife Refuges and how we wish we could bird all 4 seasons at each refuge.


Delevan National Wildlife Refuge

To bird at Delevan National Wildlife Refuge we pulled off the road at the large gravel area on Maxwell Rd, we submitted an ebird checklist with 8 species of birds including 100 Red-winged Blackbirds.

Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, August 6, 2015

Established in 1962 to alleviating crop depredation, Delevan National Wildlife has 5,877 acres of grassland, riparian and wetland habitats which provides feeding and nesting areas for migratory birds. Delevan National Wildlife Refuge is home to a breeding colonies of tricolored blackbirds and a wintering grounds for Tule Greater White-fronted Geese. Delevan National Wildlife Refuge is closed to the public except for wildlife viewing from Maxwell Rd, Four Mile Rd and a photo blind available by reservation.

Sutter National Wildlife Refuge

We visited Sutter National Wildlife Refuge and birded along the Hughes Road which bisects the refuge.

Sutter National Wildlife Refuge, August 6, 2015


Sutter National Wildlife Refuge, August 6, 2015

Teresa at Sutter NWR, August 6, 2015

Sutter National Wildlife Refuge, August 6, 2015

Blue Grosbeak at Sutter NWR, August 6, 2015

Sutter National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1945 and is closed to the public for most of the year except during Feb 15th-June 30th when the Spring Trails are open for hiking. Sutter National Wildlife Refuge consist of about 2,591 acres of grassland, riparian and wetland habitats, necessary for several endangered and threatened species including Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Swainson's Hawk, Chinook salmon and the Giant Garter Snake.


Colusa National Wildlife Refuge The auto drive at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge was closed due to seasonal flooding during our visit in December 2014. I had been able to drive the 3 mile auto drive in March of 2014 and was excited to observe the birds at the refuge during the month of August. Established in 1945, Colusa National Wildlife Refuge consist of 5,077 acres of permanent ponds, seasonal marshes, and upland habitats. Colusa National Wildlife Refuge was established to reduce damage to the agricultural crops caused by waterfowl during the winter months.

Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, August 6, 2015

Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, August 6, 2015

Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, August 6, 2015

American White Pelican at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, August 6, 2015

Rabbit at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, August 6, 2015

Western Wood-Pewee at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, August 6, 2015

We spent the night in Willows with plans to hike the next day at Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge.


August 7, 2015 Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge

This would be my third attempt to bird along the hiking trails at Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge. March of 2014 I had decided not to hike by myself after reading the Mountain Lion warning signs at the beginning of each trail. During Teresa and my December 2014 trip we had not been able to hike due to seasonal flooding. We were excited to be able to hike and bird the trails of some the Units at Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge including Rio Vista, Pine Creek, Packer and Sul Norte & Codora Units.

Karen-Teresa-Rio Vista Unit-Sacramento River NWR, August 7, 2015

Teresa-Rio Vista Unit-Sacramento River NWR, August 7, 2015

Karen-Rio Vista Unit-Sacramento River NWR, August 7, 2015

Rio Vista Unit-Sacramento River NWR, August 7, 2015

California Quail-Rio Vista Unit-Sacramento River NWR, August 7, 2015

Pine Creek-Sacramento River NWR, August 7, 2015

Sol Norte & Codora Unit Sacramento River NWR, August 7, 2015

Black-throated Gray Warbler at Sol Norte & Codora Unit at Sacramento River NWR, August 7,2015

Packer Unit-Sacramento River NWR, August 7, 2015

Flycatcher-Packer Unit-Sacramento River NWR, August 7, 2015

Established in 1989 the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge is located along the 80 mile stretch of the Sacramento River with 30 units that total 10,353 acres, consisting mainly of riparian habitats, grasslands and some orchards.

Tonight we wound need to spend the night in the Half Moon Bay area to be ready for our Pelagic Trip in the Half Moon Bay tomorrow with Debi Shearwater.


August 8, 2015 Pillar Point, Half Moon Bay Pelagic

Teresa and I both decided to wear a scopolamine patch for our 2 Pelagic Trips, the Half Moon Bay Trip on Saturday and the Farallon Island National Wildlife Refuge Trip on Sunday. The instructions said we could wear the patch for 72 hours and recommended applying the patch the night before the trip. To date our Pelagic experiences in the Pacific Ocean included an impulsive decision to take Kate's fast raft on January 2, 2015. Thrilled to see the many Whales and dolphins swimming close to Kate's raft was an amazing experience. It was also our first look at several species of seabirds but Teresa and I had not studied our Pelagic birds and were unfamiliar with the Seabirds Kate and Don called out during our half day trip.

More prepared for this Pelagic Trip, I had been studying the Pacific Pelagic birds for a few weeks. Dressed in warm clothes and carrying snacks and water, we arrived at Pillar Point Harbor early in the morning for our full day Pelagic Trip with Debi Shearwaters in the Half Moon Bay area. It was a chilly day on the Pacific Ocean and the waves rolled and tossed the participants on the boat ride as we traveled 28 miles out to the continental shelf. There were many expert birders on the trip calling out the many species of birds and maintaining

GPS coordinate ebird checklist. Some of the Pelagic birds reported on the ebird checklists for this trip included: Jaegers, Murres, Shearwaters, Auklets, Petrels and Albatross. Many mammals were also observed and recorded in the comments section of the ebird checklist including Harbor Porpoise, dolphin, Humpback whales, sea lions and seals.

Teresa and I never threw up on the boat but there were definitely times we were both feeling very seasick. Believing the scopolamine patches had provided some relief from motion sickness because many folks on the boat had thrown up. After talking to Debi and several other experienced Pelagic Trip participants I decided to make different choices for the Pelagic Trip tomorrow. It was recommended not to search for small seabirds with binoculars or a camera, instead using your eyes for finding the quick moving birds would help reduce the dizzying effects. I had really tried to reduce my time in the cabin of the boat, only going inside to grab some snacks from my back pack. Back packs and coolers were left in the cabin to make more room for people moving around on the deck. I drank very little on the boat to keep from going into the bathroom where there might be unpleasant smells or substances that might trigger nausea. I decided to carry a small bag of snacks in my purse that I could wear on the deck and access easily without going inside the cabin during the trip tomorrow.

The next day our Farallon Island Pelagic Trip with Debi Shearwater was out of Sausalito Harbor so we drove the 50 miles from Pillar Point Harbor to our hotel in Mill Valley.


August 9, 2015 Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Teresa and I were looking forward to another all day Pelagic trip with Debi Shearwater to the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. As we left the Sausalito Harbor and the San Francisco Bay we traveled through the Golden Gate, the one mile wide strait connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Debi called our attention to the iconic suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate, the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a memorable moment, looking up at the bridge above from our position in the water below, a different perspective and an amazing glance at one of the Wonders of the Modern World.

Karen under Golden Gate Bridge, Pelagic Trip to Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

Teresa and I would use what we learned the day before to hopefully feel even less motion sickness today. I had my small bag of snacks in my purse and ate small amounts often and took small sips from my water bottle staying hydrated for the whole trip. I never used my binoculars or camera while the boat was traveling the 30 miles to Farallon Islands. It was true it was actually easier to spot birds without binoculars as the lurching and rocking motion of the boat makes holding the binoculars on a distant object nearly impossible.

I waited until we got to Farallon Islands to use my camera. Even with the boat no longer moving forward the constant toss and roll of the boat made it difficult to hold the camera steady enough to get the photos of the Blue-footed Booby, Northern Gannet, 4 Brown Boobies and Tufted Puffin sitting high on the rocks.

Brown Boobies and Tufted Puffin at Farallon Islands NWR, August 9, 2015

Northern Gannet at Farallon Islands NWR, August 9, 2015

Blue-footed Booby at Farallon Islands NWR, August 9, 2015

Cormorants on rocky face at Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

Teresa at Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

Karen at Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

As I steadied my arms on the side of the boat and snapped photos of the distant birds I felt my stomach make a uneasy grumble as my head began to feel dizzy. A few minutes with the camera down helped but as soon as I picked the camera up to my eye again the dizzying feelings returned. I wondered if I could ever truly enjoy a Pelagic Trip. The motion sickness feeling prevented me from entering conversations with other folks on the boat and I never felt like I could truly get the best looks of the seabirds bobbing in the water or flying past our little boat in this giant ocean.

All the boat participants enjoyed watching the sail boat approach the large gray rocks of Farallon Islands. With the sail boat anchored a small orange craft was lowered into the water and some folks from the sail boat climbed into the small orange boat. There was a large crane high on a platform on the island, some folks lowered the crane down to the small craft and hoisted it up to the platform. Folks left the boat to join the folks on the platform and some supplies were delivered.

raft approaches Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

Crane and workers ready to raise raft to platform at Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

Crane lifts raft at Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

Raft returning to Sailboat after dropping off supplies and volunteers to Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

The National Wildlife Refuge Manager for Farallon Islands NWR was on our boat and explained the process. Folks participating with the Point Blue Conservation Science and National Wildlife Refuge System volunteer to spend a few months on the Farallon Islands to do research including counting and recording birds nesting on the islands. It was exciting to see the small houses where the folks live during their stay and imagine the harsh conditions experienced while staying on the islands including isolation from the mainland, limited facilities, steep rocky slopes, an absolutely strong stench from waste left from the thousands of Cormorants, gulls and other birds staying on the Islands.


Facilities at Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

Facilities at Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

Tufted Puffin in waters around Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

Birds at Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

Established in 1909 by Teddy Roosevelt, Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of four groups of small islands totaling 211 acres. The four groups of small island include Southeast Farallon, North Farallons, Middle Farallon, and  Noonday Rock. South Farallon Island was added to the refuge in 1969 and at 70 acres is the largest island.

A field station is located on Southeastern Farallon Island with a half-dozen structures from former Coast Guard and Navy occupants. These structures are maintained and provide housing, power and water facilites for refuge management purposes. North Farallons, Middle Farallon, and Noonday Rock are virtually inaccessible even by boat.  Farallon Islands supports half the world's population Ashy Storm-petrels and contains the largest seabird nesting colony south of Alaska including the largest nesting colony of Western Gulls in the world.


Karen-Debi-Teresa at Farallon Islands NWR, August 7, 2015

Returning late in the afternoon to Sausalito Harbor we removed our scopolamine patches and drove 3 hours to our hotel in Salinas. Tomorrow we planned to bird at Salinas National Wildlife Refuge.


August 10, 2015 Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge and Big Sur coast--Sea-lion Beach

During our California National Wildlife Refuge Trip December 2014 we had been unable to drive into the parking lot at Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge due to the seasonal flooding. The road to the Refuge parking lot was soaking wet with thick sticky mud and only accessible by hiking through the boot sucking off your foot muddy conditions.

The drier summer months would be a better time to visit Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge. After our Pelagic Trips in August 2015 we planned a day to visit this Refuge in the central California coast. Established in 1973, Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge has 367 acres of salt marshes, saline ponds, coastal dunes, beaches, grasslands and riparian habitats.

Hiking the River Trail at Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge took us along the edge of the river through uplands to a salt marsh and then to the sandy foredunes that open onto sandy beach.

Teresa at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Salinas National Wildlife Refuge, August 10, 2015

Trail at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Ruddy Duck at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Karen at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Teresa and Karen at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Caspian Tern at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

American Avocet at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Phalarope at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Gulls at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Beach Access at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Snowy Plover nesting area along beach at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Snowy Plover at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Whimbrel at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Surf Scoter at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Teresa at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Spending some time birding on the beach we observed several Snowy Plovers. To complete our visit to this Refuge we hiked the Warriner Beach Trail with views of salt marsh, a saline pond and vegetated back dunes. As we were finishing up our hike at the Refuge we met someone headed to the beach to count the Snowy Plovers, she worked for Point Blue Conservation Science and had volunteered on the Farallon Island National Wildlife Refuge. Point Blue Conservation Science, founded as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, is a California-based wildlife conservation and research non-profit organization. Point Blue's mission is to conserve birds, other wildlife and ecosystems through science, partnerships, and outreach. It was interesting to hear about her stories as a volunteer and paid employee working on these important conservation efforts. She told us the location of a Great Horned Owl she observed when coming down the trail and we found it on the way out, not sure we would have seen it without her description of the owl's location.

Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Kite at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Great-horned Owl at Salinas NWR, August 10, 2015

Back at the hotel in Salinas, we retrieved our gear then stopped for lunch at a restaurant, allowing us time to consider our options for birding the rest of the afternoon. Checking bird sightings on ebird we found several hotspots with recent reports of California Condors. About an hour drive from Salinas we headed to the "Condor Overlook" on coastal highway 1. There was a parking area at the beautiful scenic overlook named Big Sur Coast-Sea Lion Beach-Condor Overlook on ebird. Studying the many soaring birds overhead we determined most of the large black birds were Turkey Vultures. Finally, a much larger soaring bird with a white numbered tag visible on the wing, the ID was confirmed we could list our sighting on ebird of this endangered species, the California Condor.

We spent the night in Seaside, planning to spend the day birding along the coast for our last day in California.


August 11, 2015 Moss Landing Harbor, Moss Landing-Old Salt Ponds and Pillar Point Harbor

We birded at Moss Landing Harbor--Jetty Rd and north harbor where we could see thousand of terns flying around the old salt ponds across the road. We drove over to the Moss Landing old salt ponds and stayed for several hours watching thousands of Elegant Terns pick up from the edge of the large pond only to set back down again. By late afternoon we headed back up the coast to Pillar Point Harbor where we spent about 3.5 hours watching the gulls, pelicans and terns. Around the rocky area next to the beach we watched over 200 Sanderlings running back and forth with the small waves. Just past the rocky jetty surrounding Pillar Point Harbor I could see thousands of birds feeding in a line just over the ocean's surface including Sooty Shearwaters. As it got dark we drove to Brisbane to spend the night and prepare for our early morning flights home the next day.


August 12, 2015 Returned home

Teresa flew home to Lexington, Ky and I flew home to Chapel Hill, NC


Visited 7 National Wildlife Refuges

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, California 8/6/15

Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, California 8/6/15

Sutter National Wildlife Refuge, California 8/6/15

Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, California 8/6/15

Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge, California 8/7/15

Farallon National Wildlife Refuge, California 8/9/15

Salinas National Wildlife Refuge, California 8/10/15


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