Mostly Starlings and Goldeneyes, 12-26-17

I headed over to the American River Bend Park for a walk. It was 34º when I got there, and got up to about 53º when I headed back home.

I wasn’t expecting to see a lot – we’re kind of “between seasons” at the river; all of the birds haven’t migrated in yet and it hasn’t rained enough for the fungi to come out – but the walks themselves always do me good. When I first got there, a light fog was still hanging over the river, so I went to the shore first to try to get some photos of that. Since the flooding earlier this year, the water had receded enough so that the riverside trail was passable again. (At the height of the flood, the river was right up to the trailhead, and beaver had floated up to chew on trees that normally wouldn’t have access to.)

Here is the album of photos and video snippets.

The flood has left its mark, though, with toppled down trees, scraggly flotsam high in the scrub brush and branches of still-standing trees, and rearranged rocks and sandbars. Still, the path was recognizable and I was able to make it through without incident. In places along the way, I could see the tracks of others who had walked along it: humans, dogs, deer, and what might have been a bobcat – fat rounded “fingers” with no toenails.

The trail let out close to what’s now the riverside, but I had to walk over tons of river rocks to get to the water. The rocks are all smooth and beautiful, but are a pain for me to walk across. My arthritis is welding all the bones in my feet together, so my feet don’t bend like they normally should anymore. Traversing uneven ground is a misery for me, but the few photos I got of the fog and a few birds were worth it.

The first creature I saw was a young Herring Gull, preening at the very end of a sandbar. He looked cold and sleepy, waiting for the morning sun to burn through the fog some more so he could warm up. Further up the shore was a Great Blue Heron, puffed up and hunkered down against the chill in the air, but still keeping an eye on the water in case breakfast swam by.

A little further up was a female Common Merganser floating on the water. And then I saw the Goldeneye ducks: mostly females, but several males, too.

Along with the Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), I also caught sight of a Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica), distinguishable by the shape of the blotch on the face of the male. On the Common goldeneye, the blotch is round, and on the Barrow’s it’s like a paint-stroke. The Barrow’s also has “blocks” of white along the wing-line. We don’t get to see Barrow’s Goldeneyes around here much, so it’s always a treat when they show up. I was hoping the boys would do their flip-head dance for the girls, but they were all more interested in eating than in displaying. I got photos (and a little video) of all of them through the haze of the fog.

The other bird species I saw a lot of today were the European Starlings. In several spots, I saw them checking out nesting cavities in trees, going in and out, and talking to each other. I also saw quite a few California Scrub Jays, and one of them posed nicely for me on the humped back of a curved branch. In another park of the park,

I came across an area where smaller birds were trying to get to the last seeds on the now-dead star thistle: Spotted and California Towhees, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Golden-Crowned Sparrows and Lesser Goldfinches. What was surprising was that I didn’t see a lot of Acorn Woodpeckers or Canada Geese. They’re kind of ubiquitous, so to NOT see them is unusual.

Along my walk I also came across some Gouty Stem Galls, the leftover cocoon of a Tussock Moth caterpillar, the chrysalis of a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, and a few Deer Shield mushrooms. I walked for about 3 hours and then headed home .

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Mary K. Hanson is a breast cancer survivor who, at age 61, took coursework to become a Certified California Naturalist. The author of “The Chubby Woman’s Walkabout”™ blog, Ms. Hanson has also written nature-based feature articles published in regional newspapers, authored over ten books, including her "Cool Stuff Along the American" series of guide books, and has had her photographs featured in books, articles, calendars, on the American River Parkway Foundation’s Instagram stream, and even the White House blog. This year Ms. Hanson is helping to launch and teach a new Certified California Naturalist course through Tuleyome, in partnership with the University of California and the Woodland Library, so members of the public can themselves become certified as naturalists in the state. All of the photos seen on her website were taken by Ms. Hanson herself (unless noted otherwise) with moderate- to low-end photographic equipment more easily affordable to the everyday nature enthusiast. She also occasionally leads photo-walks through the American River Bend Park for the public and is sometimes available for public speaking.