Birding at the Cosumnes Preserve, 02-01-18

I was invited to go for a birding walk at the Cosumnes River Preserve this morning, so I went to that before getting on with my normal work stuff.

On my way to the preserve, I thought I saw a dead Bald Eagle along the side of the highway. I was going by at 70 mph, though, so I only caught a glimpse of it, but I thought I definitely saw a bird with a black body and a white head… I would’ve stopped to double-check it, but there was too much traffic. Even if I HAD stopped for it, if it WAS a Bald Eagle, I think I’d have to turn the carcass over to the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. I have a “salvage” permit (so I can pick up road kill if I want to), but eagles have a lot of extra laws protecting them – even when they’re dead. I think only Native American can keep the feathers and the bones…

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

When I got to the preserve, I took the long way to the first parking lot by going around Bruceville and Desmond Roads where the rice fields and the wetland meet. There were quite a few raptors out, but I only got photos of a couple of them: a Red-Tailed Hawk and some American Kestrels. There was also a Northern Harrier sitting along the side of one of the rice fields – but I only got a blurry photo of it because it was so far away. And there was a Red-Shouldered Hawk, too, but it flew off before I could stop the car and get a photo.

At the preserve, I just walked the boardwalk trail and around the ponds but I still was able to see quite a few species including: a Loggerhead Shrike, Red-Winged Blackbirds, White-Crowned Sparrows, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a few Greater Yellowlegs, a couple of American Wigeons, Northern Pintails, and lots and lots of American Coots including a dead one.

The dead bird was lying in a mass of its own feathers right beside the trail – and next to an otter slide. Whatever had killed the bird had grabbed it by the neck and just started to rip the feathers away before it took off and left the bird behind. Otters don’t eat birds, so I thought maybe it had been attacked by a fox or weasel or something like that – or maybe someone’s small dog. It wasn’t “shredded” as though it had been attacked by a larger animal like a coyote; they’re not “delicate” with their prey. And I don’t think a hawk or eagle got the Coot because they don’t grab prey by the neck; they go for a body slam and hold, and then rip out the soft spots first – not the feathers around the next. It was weird. I wish I had more “forensic” skills.

I also saw some Cinnamon Teals, lots of Green-Winged Teals, and one Blue-Winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, several Killdeer, a Wilson’s Snipe hiding in the tules, some American Pipits, lots of Brewer’s Blackbirds, several Black Phoebes, and two different kinds of Warblers: some Myrtle Warblers and an Audubon’s Warbler. They used to be lumped together and referred to as Yellow-Rumped Warblers, but since 2016 the Yellow-Rumped Warblers (affectionately referred to as “Butter Butts”) where broken out into four species based on their field markings (coloration) and breeding ranges. The Myrtles have a white throat, and the Audubon’s have a yellow throat. There are also Black-Fronted Warblers found in Mexico, and Goldman’s Warblers that only live in Guatemala.

The sightings continued this morning with lots of Snow Geese, some Sandhill Cranes, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Black-Necked Stilts, lots of tiny Dunlin, a Herring Gull, several Marsh Wrens singing amid the tules, and some Song Sparrows, Greater White-Fronted Geese, a Tree Swallow and Western Meadowlarks. I also saw two Great Egrets.

One was sitting up in a tree preening itself. It was in its long trailing breeding plumage, but didn’t have its neon-green face yet. The other wasn’t in breeding plumage, and was hunting along the side of the road. I saw it catch several crawdads. I ate two of them, but let the third one go because it was so large and aggressive. I guess the birds wasn’t hungry enough to bother with food that could fight back. Hah!

So that was, what… almost 40 species? A good birding day.

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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.