29° at the Cosumnes Preserve

Well, my holiday weekend has been so busy so far, I really just wanted to sleep in a bit today… but I was up at about 7:00 am and out the door by 7:30 to go over to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  It was 31° in Sacramento and 29° at the preserve.  Brrrr! I’m going to have to pull out my winter coat!

Coyote. Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Coyote. Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

As I was driving up to the preserve, I saw a huge handsome coyote along the roadside, so I pulled over to get a few photos of him.  That as a nice way to start my nature-watching stint.  There was a herd of sheep out there eating the grass and scrub.  They were watched over by a pair of large white dogs that eventually got tired of rounding up the sheep and just laid down in the sun to try to get warm…  The dog were effective at keeping the lone coyote away, though.

I also saw Red-Tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, Turkey Vultures, House Finches, White-Crowned Sparrows, Great Egrets, Meadowlarks, a Great Blue Heron, quite a few Cinnamon Teals and loads of other ducks, Greater White-Fronted Geese, Canada Geese, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Black-Necked Stilts, Killdeer (one flew right down in front of me and landed in the water), Snipes, American Coots, and ground squirrels…

It was cold enough so some of the water in shallower parts of the ponds and wetland areas was frozen.  I watched a tiny sparrow “walking on water” over the top of the ice.  In some places, where the ice had already started to melt as the sun came up, small round “maws” started to appear in the ice where the water percolated and lapped up as the wind moved the unfrozen part of the ponds around.  I got some photos of some of the Coots swimming right along the edge of the ice, poking at it to try to figure out what it was.  It wasn’t very dense, but it was enough that they didn’t want to cross the boundary it made.

Just as I was heading out the area, I saw a Great Egret poised in its strike-position, so I pulled over to the side of the road to see if would catch anything.  I was really surprised when it stabbed into the brush and brought out a huge RAT!  Then it carried the rat in its bill over to the nearest pond, and drowned it before swallowing it whole.  I’ve seen these big egrets eat all kinds of insects and crustaceans, but never saw one eat something this furry or this big before. It was creepy and awesome at the same time. I got some video of it, too, but the camera didn’t know what to focus on so some of it’s blurry.

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“A Study in Red-Tailed Hawks” on Sunday

I got up around 7:00 this morning and was out the door with the dog by about 7:30 am.  We headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Preserve.  Usually, I like to this trip on a Saturday because it’s a lot of in-the-car time for both me and the dog, but my Saturday was sort of messed up, so…  Here we are. 

Red-Tailed Hawk just about to take off. Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Red-Tailed Hawk just about to take off. Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

 Lots and lots of Red-Tailed Hawks out today, including a couple of mated pairs, and quite a few ground squirrels.  I also saw the normal contingent of ducks and geese, and an occasional egret.  No super-stand outs today, but I did get a few nice close-ups of critters, so I figured it was worth the drive.

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Birding Along Desmond Road in Galt, CA 11-20-15

After work, it was nice outside and traffic wasn’t too bad so I drove out to Desmond Road by the Cosumnes River Preserve to see if I could get some more raptor photos.  The big surprise as I came up over the hump of the railroad tracks to get down onto the road was a whole herd of goats being used for clean-up duty.  The preserve let the goats graze down all of the dead grass and weeds and stuff so they don’t have to send guys out there with noisy weed-whackers or mowers that would frighten all of the migrating birds.  Cool!

Cattle Egret.  Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Cattle Egret. Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

As for birds: lots of Snow Geese were out there along with their grey juveniles, a bunch of teeny-tiny Dunlins, Killdeer, Meadowlarks, a Say’s Phoebe, Black Phoebes, Greater White-Fronted Geese, Northern Shoveler and Pintail ducks, a pair of Green Teals, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Brewer’s Blackbirds, loads of Coots and the other usual suspects.

I watched a Great Egret catching snails and dragonfly nymphs in the muddy grass, and a few Sandhill Cranes were venturing closer to the side of the road than I’d ever seen them, so I got some shots of them, too.  And I got to see some Cattle Egret.  They’re very common along the highways and farmlands, but I’d never seen any at the preserve before, and I’d never been able to get any decent close-ups of any of them, so it was kind of a treat to see them there.  As for the raptors: I saw some American Kestrels, a Harrier Hawk fly-by, a scruffy-looking Red-Tailed Hawk and a juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk…

On the way off of Desmond Road, heading back home, I saw a white form sitting on top of a tree, so I took some pictures of it.  I wasn’t sure what it was until I got home and could look at the photos.  It was a White-Tailed Kite!  Too far away to get a decent photo of it, but that was a nice find. So, for an impromptu birding expedition, it was pretty successful.

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A Cool Katydid and some Fall Color

Katydid. Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Katydid. Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

Before going home, I took the dog over to the William Land Park for a short walk.  Not a lot to see today but we did meet a katydid and saw the Green Heron there today; and there were a few trees showing off some fall coloring, so it was nice.

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Many Many Hawks on Saturday

I got up about 7:00 am and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was about 43° and foggy when we headed out.  The haze hung around all day, but it did get up to about 64° by the late afternoon.

Red-Tailed Hawk. Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Red-Tailed Hawk. Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

The very first thing that greeted us when we entered the refuge was a huge hawk sitting on top of one of the eucalyptus trees near the nature center.  After that, it seemed like I saw hawk after hawk on the driving tour.  The majority of them were Red-Tailed Hawks. One of them was sitting on the branch of the tree that was growing out of a gully on the side of the road, so it was right at window-level with the car.  Among the raptors, I also saw some American Kestrels, a Cooper’s Hawk, several Harrier Hawks (but only in flight), a Peregrine Falcon (that was in a weird position so I couldn’t get a decent photo of him), a Red-Shouldered Hawk and Turkey Vultures.

Other birds I saw along the drive were Black Phoebes, Red-Winged Blackbirds. Brewer’s Blackbirds, Greater White Fronted Geese, Snow Geese, Pintails. Mallards, American Coots, White-Crowned Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Northern Shovelers (including some males in their eclipse plumage), a Great Blue Heron, Gadwalls, a Great Egret, Meadowlarks, a bunch of non-breeding Eared Grebes (distinguished by their huge fluffy butts), an immature Common Gallinule, a few Bufflehead Ducks, European Starlings, and some tiny Killdeer.  I also some saw some Long-billed Curlews but they were so far out in the distance I couldn’t get a decent shot of them. 

At one point along the auto tour, I pulled over near a drainage ditch to let some other cars pass me, and as I was sitting there, I hear something splash in the water in the ditch.  I looked out through the passenger side window, and in the water was a River Otter!  The light was hitting him at a weird angle, some he was mostly in silhouette, but I managed to get a few photos and video snippet of him before he gave me an explosive snort and disappeared under the water again.  I also got to see a raccoon family, but they were crossing the road in front of me and too far away to get any photos of them.

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When I was done with the auto tour, I let Sergeant Margie out of the car for a walk around the small wetlands area near the nature center.  ((Dogs are allowed as long as they’re on a leash.))  He’s getting up in age (he’ll be 13 years old on the 22nd of this month), though, and can’t walk as far as he used to, so we only got about a quarter of the way through before I had to get him back to the car.  His spirit is always willing, but his body can’t take long-long walks anymore. Poor old critter.