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Those bleak, boring days of summer are past!  Now that we're into the short, cold days of November, the fun begins.

Fall migration has been interesting this year, to be sure.  The blue-footed boobies are still hanging out up and down the coast.  Unfortunately, the shutdown screwed up our enjoyment somewhat by closing parks and beaches.  But that's all in the past, and now we can look forward to visiting our favorite spots and welcoming our winter visitors.

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Leucistic Red-tailed Hawk

Put on your winter whites and join me below....

Just as bird migrations are driven by basic needs (food above all), my winter wanderings are primarily driven by a search for raptors.  That the quest takes me to beautiful places and lets me see many other great birds is just icing on the cake.

Ferruginous Hawk in late day sun

Two places are absolute musts every winter, Panoche and Solano.  I've written about both several times.  The names are shorthand for much larger areas, with trips centered on one spot but with widely varying itineraries based on conditions, activity, hotlines and the like.

Mountain Bluebirds in Panoche Valley

Panoche Valley is about 25 miles southwest of Hollister, CA.  (A trip there is easily combined with a side trip to Pinnacles National Monument, about 15 minutes south of the start of Panoche Road, to look for California Condors.)  If you've ever been interested in getting there but haven't made it yet, it's time to go.  A large-scale solar project will begin there soon (construction may already have started) and the place will be changed significantly.

Raptors brought me there in the first place, but Phainopeplas and others keep me coming back.

Santa Ana Valley was at was originally a brief detour for us at the start of Panoche trips, but has become a destination in its own right.  When there's not enough time for a full day trip, a half day to the area just east of the town of Tres Pinos (via Quien Sabe Road) can be fantastic.  

Golden Eagle along Santa Ana Valley Road

Solano is, at its core, the area between Suisun and RioVista along Highway 12 in Solano County - just north of 12 on Robinson/Flannery/Creed Roads, and south of the road in Grizzly Island.  It's another place that's changing, with subdivisions and windfarms moving into the ranchlands.  Still, the birds manage to get by in the ranchlands out there.
Short-eared Owl on Robinson Road

We usually combine Solano trips with forays into the Delta (especially at Woodbridge Road, for all the cranes and waterfowl), and other Sacramento-Davis area hotspots.  (I'm hoping that tgypsy and Kestrel will chime in with more on Consumnes, Yolo Bypass and others!)

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Rough-legged Hawk on the outskirts of Davis.

Winter is the time for insane numbers of waterfowl in California.  The Sacramento, San Joaquin and Central Valleys are home to a number of wildlife refuges that host the ducks and geese for hunters, but also many other species - cranes, herons, bitterns, lotsa kinds of sparrows and warblers, and of course raptors.

Humans with guns are not the only duck hunters in the refuges.

Along the coast, we have many great spots for seeing wintering waterfowl and shorebirds.  To the north, there's Bodega Bay, where you can test your ID skills on mixed flocks like this group on the pilings:

bodega harbor_0064

... or test your counting skills.

mago will_0084

There are more mudflats and rocky coast in Point Reyes, where the green winter hills will support redtails:

... and Tule Elk:
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to a friendly White-crowned Sparrow:

Originally posted to lineatus on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 06:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching.

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