Fighting the Fog Along Woodbridge and Staten Roads, 01-04-20

Around 7:30 am, my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne showed up (with coffee for each of us) and drove us around to the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, Staten Island Road and into the city of Elk Grove.

Start Time: 7:30 am
Start Temperature: 39º F
End Time: 12:30 pm
End Temperature: 51º F
Weather: Overcast, foggy, a little drizzly
Total Hours in the field (includes travel time): 5 hours

I’d purchased Lands Passes (day pass) for both of us for Woodbridge, but had never been there before. So, I didn’t realize we couldn’t actually get into the reserve by ourselves; you have to have a ranger guide you on a tour. Instead, we drove into the pull-outs along the road, and then walked along the road for a mile or two, looking out into the reserve and at the farms around it.

Right across from one of the pull-outs was a large vineyard, and we were surprised to see most of the vines still heavy with drying, rotting fruit. I took some establishing shots before focusing on the wildlife we could see.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

It was pretty foggy outside when we got there, and when the sun came out it created a bright glare that was hard to photograph through and against. Still, we managed to get quite a few photos of birds.

It was foggy when we first arrived, which made photo-taking somewhat difficult. (Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii)

Lots of Sandhill Cranes and Red-Tailed Hawks along the road. We were also teased by a Cooper’s Hawk and an American Kestrel who kept landing near us and then flying off before we could get any really good shots of them. Once the fog lifted our photography improved somewhat.

Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii

In one area, someone had tossed out some cracked corn on the ground, and there were sparrows, blackbirds and Mockingbirds eating it. Someone had also dumped four old Christmas trees there which I thought was sooooo rude.

The Sandhill Cranes seemed to be all over the place, in small flocks and onesies-twosies. In some spots they were standing in among the chaff of what we think were fields of corn, and as big as the birds are, they seemed to blend right in. Sometimes we didn’t see then until we were almost right next to them. Amazing.

Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis, adults and a juvenile.

“Sandhill cranes mate for life. When they form a pair bond, it can last for years, until one of the cranes dies… Mated pairs and their juvenile offspring stay together all through the winter, until the 9- to 10-month-old juveniles finally separate from their parents the following spring. During migration and winter the family units group together with other families and nonbreeders, forming loose roosting and feeding flocks—in some places numbering in the tens of thousands. “

I looked to see if I could spot some banded birds, but… no luck there.

In one of the flooded fields, we saw Black-Necked Stilts, some Northern Shovelers, Coots, a few Dowitchers and Dunlin. In another field there were Shovelers, Pintails and Mallards. So a lot of waterfowl… just most of it was out of the range of our camera, or back-lit so they were hard to see. There were also lots of Red-Winged Blackbirds and flocks of House Finches here and there.

A male Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata, in his “eclipse plumage”. According to RSPB: “Eclipse plumage is temporary or transition plumage. Ducks are peculiar in that they molt all their flight feathers — the long, wing feathers; — at once. For about a month, they can’t fly and very vulnerable to predators. To provide some protection, particularly for the brightly-colored males, the molt starts with their bright body feathers. These are replaced by dowdy brown ones, making them look much like females.”

In another area, there were also cattle sitting and grazing in a field, and the herd included several cows with their calves. We got to see some of the calves nursing.

Charolais Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Charolais

There was also one spot in a field where a Red-Tailed Hawk was trying to eat from what looked like a duck carcass… and there were several seagulls around him trying to steal his meal. I think they were Ring-Billed gulls, but I need to double-check on that. One of the gulls was so brazen that it walked up and sat right behind the hawk, like he was waiting for an opening.

As we were heading back toward Sacramento, in some spots along the road, we found groupings of cast off watermelons and cantaloupes. They looked like they’d just been dumped…but they’ll drop seeds as they deteriorate. We also some Osage oranges in a tree/shrub along the way, and came across what looked like a very unkempt apple orchard with loads of apples on some of the trees.

We drove for about 5 hours before stopping in Elk Grove for lunch.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  4. Audubon’s Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  5. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  6. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  7. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  8. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  9. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  11. Charolais Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Charolais
  12. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  13. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa
  14. Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
  15. Cultivated Apple, Malus domestica ssp.
  16. Cultivated Watermelon, Citrullus lanatus
  17. Dunlin, Calidris alpina
  18. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  19. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  20. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  21. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  22. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  23. Holstein Cattle, Bos taurus var. Holstein
  24. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  25. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  26. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  27. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
  28. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  29. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  30. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  31. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  32. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  33. Osage-Orange, Maclura pomifera
  34. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  35. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  36. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  37. Ring-Billed Gull, Larus delawarensis
  38. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  39. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
  40. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  41. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  42. Umbilicated cap mushroom, maybe Arrhenia obscurata
  43. Western Gull, Larus occidentalis 
  44. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  45. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys