Very Much a “Crane” Day, 11-02-19

Got up a little after 7:00 am and after giving the dog his breakfast, I headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  They’d advertised on Facebook about the large flocks of hundred of birds coming in… But they till don’t have a lot of water on the ground, so the “wetlands” are still pretty dry. So, it wasn’t as productive an outing as I thought it might be. Still, there were a few standouts and surprises.

It was a very chilly 36º outside when I got to the preserve. I took the loop around Bruceville Road and Desmond Road before going to the preserve itself and actually saw far more birds there than on the wetlands themselves.  In the rice fields along the roads were Brewer’s Blackbirds and large flocks of Red-Winged Blackbirds, Western Meadowlarks, Canada and Greater White-Fronted Geese, Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, a few Dunlins, some Greater Yellowlegs and a lot of Sandhill Cranes.

In the fields, it was very a “crane day”. The Sandhills were all over the place, and more flew in as I was taking photos. Because it was so cold outside and the car was so warm from its long drive from Sacramento, heat waves coming up from the undercarriage warped and distorted most of the photos I took from inside the car. So, I got myself out of the car to take some more. 

In one of the fields, there were Sandhill Cranes mixed in with Great Egrets and some Cattle Egrets. Among the cranes were some of their youngsters who were smaller and didn’t have that signature “heart” on the forehead yet.  I think there were so many birds in that field because it was in the process of being flooded – so all of the mice, voles and moles were rushing to get to parts of the field that were still dry. One of the adults managed to grab hold of a small black vole, and then had to dart, run and fly around to try to keep it from the other cranes and egrets who tried to steal it. I managed to get a few photos of that, but the action was so quick most of the images turned out as blurs.

Sandhill Cranes, Grus canadensis, a Great Egret, Ardea alba, and some Canada Geese, Branta canadensis

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The adult cranes can stand around 5 feet tall when they stretch their necks out, so sometimes all I could see over the tall grasses were their heads. And it seemed like when the Great Egrets were around them, the egrets would stretch themselves up trying to look as tall as the cranes. So funny.  In these areas, too, the air was filled with the loud sound of hundreds of geese, blackbirds singing, and cranes crackling.  Such a cacophony!

Another video snippet of the Sandhill Cranes and Great Egrets along Desmond Road

I saw leg bands on one of the cranes and blew up the photo when I got home to see if I could figure out where it had come from.  Although I could see the color of the bands, I couldn’t make out the numbers on them. (And I think there was a transmitter on the opposite leg, but I’m not sure.)  Anyway, I loaded the images I had up and submitted them to the International Crane Foundation ( hoping they’ll be able to tell me more about the crane I’d spotted.

Whenever you see any banded bird, try to get a photo of the bands or write down what you see and then forward the information you’ve collected to the proper birding authority. This is what Citizen Science is all about: everyday folks spotting banded birds and reporting their findings so scientists can use them in their studies.

As far as other waterfowl went, I saw a few Mallards, a handful of female Northern Shovelers, one female Northern Pintail and some American Coots.

The preserve was holding their “Ducks in Scopes” event this weekend (as I think they do every weekend until February), but it’s hard to do a ducks-in-scopes with no ducks.  When the staffers arrived with their tables, chairs and scopes one of them exclaimed, “Oh, thank god the Coots are out today.  Last week we had only ONE.”  Hah! As I said, they need a LOT more water on the landscape to temp the waterfowl to land there, and they just don’t have that yet.

I walked the boardwalk, and didn’t see a whole lot along that route, but I was surprised to find a stalwart Cabbage White Butterfly braving the cold morning, trying to warm herself up in the sun.  Because she was cold, she didn’t fuss when I took her off the willow stem and held her on my fingertips for a little while to get some close-up shots of her.

Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae

And down one of the shallow levies I saw a female Northern Harrier on the ground.  She chased a gray field mouse through the grass and herded it toward the water, and finally caught it when it refused to get its feet wet.  She was pretty far away from me, but I did manage to get a few (rather bad) photos of her, and a video snippet of her eating her breakfast. 

A female Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius, with her field mouse breakfast.
A female Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius, with her field mouse breakfast.

When she flew off after her meal, she spent a little time harassing a Red-Tailed Hawk that was sitting on top of a short tree in the middle of the marsh.

I walked for about 2 hours and then headed back home.  When I got back to the house it was about 55º outside.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  5. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  6. Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae
  7. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  8. Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis
  9. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  10. Dunlin, Calidris alpina
  11. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  12. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  13. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  14. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  15. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris [nest]
  16. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  17. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  18. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  19. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  20. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  21. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  22. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  23. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  24. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  25. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys