Snipe! 11-28-20

I got up around 6:30 this morning.  It was another cool autumnal day; about 37° in the morning with a high of about 64° in the late afternoon.  My friend and fellow naturalist, Roxanne, and I headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve to see how things were looking there.

Along Bruceville and Desmond Roads we saw lots of Greater White-Fronted Geese, some in flocks of hundreds of birds. They were all really chatty, so there was noise all around us. Here and there, there were also some Great Egrets.  The surprise was to see a female Northern Harrier sitting on the ground near an area where Pintails were gathered. I don’t know if she was stalking her breakfast or just resting. In the distance in the same field there were Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons and a few Green-Winged Teals.

Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius, sitting on a berm checking out the nearby Pintails.

In other fields were small flocks of Canada Geese, and clutches of Killdeer.  In among the Killdeer were some tiny Least Sandpipers and an occasional American Pippet.

When we got to the preserve itself, we saw a few birds in the lead wetland areas. The last time I was there, they were just starting to fill the wetland area and the pond by the boardwalk was bone dry. Today, there was a lot more water on the ground and the pond had a little bit of water, too. That was nice to see.  My goal today was to find a Wilson’s Snipe.

Right off the bat, we saw a group of feeding ducks, and were surprised to realize that all three species of “teals” were right there: Cinnamon Teals, Green-Winged Teals and a couple of Blue-Winged Teals.  Even though they were relatively close, it was hard to get decent photos of the birds because they were so focused on eating. These are “dabbling ducks”, who feed with their faces down in the water. They would come up for air only briefly, and Rox and I found that there was an annoying lag between when the ducks raised their heads to take a breath, and our fingers pushed on the shutter button of our cameras… so we ended up with a LOT of blurry photos and photos of the ducks’ backs. Hah!

On some of the shallow up-thrusts of mud and weeds, we saw a few Killdeer, a few Greater Yellowlegs, and some resting Pintails.  In the tules, there were blackbirds and a variety of Sparrows and Marsh Wrens. 

We saw several Black Phoebes, an Audubon’s Warbler, and also caught sight of a Loggerhead Shrike – my first sighting of the year. Yay!

Also affectionately called “Murder Birds”, Shrikes are “songbirds with the soul of a raptor”. According to Cornell:

“…This shrike, like others, is a small avian predator that hunts from perches and impales its prey on sharp objects such as thorns and barbed-wire fences. Although such predatory behavior mimics that of some raptors, impaling behavior represents a unique adaptation to the problem of eating large prey without benefit of the stronger feet and talons of raptors. In addition, the hooked bill, flanked by horny tomial projections and functionally similar to the notched upper bill of falcons, further sets shrikes apart as distinctive in the order Passeriformes. Being both passerines and top-level predators, these birds occupy a unique position in the food chain…”

Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus. “Murder Bird”

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

At the viewing platform at the end of the boardwalk, we got to see small flocks of Coots, and some Northern Shovelers.  Some of the Coots were walking up on the edge of the little island directly out from the viewing platform, and I tried to get photos of their incredible feet, but didn’t do too well. I got some pix of them lifting their feet and some pix of the back of their feet, but not a nice photo of them standing flat on their feet.  Unlike many other waterfowl, the Coots have lobed toes on their big yellow and blue-green feet. I just love them, and always try to get photos of them when I see these birds.

One pair of the Shovelers was doing the “vortex” movement on the surface of water, swimming in a tight circle together to whirl up the nibbles into a mini water-funnel that they can feed from. The female seemed to be doing all of the eating, though. Hah! I tried to get video of the movement, but, of course, the camera decided to focus on a twig in front of the ducks instead of the ducks themselves, so I got 38 seconds of blurry ducks swimming in a circle. Sigh.

Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata

Another pair of the Shovelers, were feeding really close to the viewing platform, so I was able to clearly see their feet and their dabbling beaks under the surface of the water.  And the water was remarkably clear. The male in this pair was in his eclipse plumage.

On the way back from the viewing platform to the car, we saw the Shrike several times, moving from tree to tree, and also caught sight of a White-Tailed Kite “kiting” in the air. I got video of the Kite, and was amazed by how still it could keep its head while its wings were flapping so vigorously. Then it dropped straight down onto the ground, disappearing into the weeds. When they dive, they move sooooo fast, I always worry that their brakes won’t work and they’ll crash face-first into the dirt.

As we were just leaving the boardwalk, we came across a gentleman who told us he had just starting birding – since the pandemic. It was exciting to him, he said, to discover all of the life around him that he’d never noticed before. Every new bird was electrifying. I asked him if he’d ever been to Staten Island Road, and he said no, so we gave him directions. He gave us an “elbow bump” before heading back to his car.

Rox and I walked for a little while longer and then headed over to Staten Island Road ourselves. Along that road there weren’t as many Sandhill Cranes as there were the last time I was there, but we still got to see and hear some of them, and got a few photos. The immediate stand-outs along the road, though, were a female Kestrel who seemed to be leading us from one telephone line to another up the road, and the phoebes. We saw both Black Phoebes and Say’s Phoebes. Rox had trouble getting photos of the Say’s on our way in down the road – they kept flitting away, or her camera kept fighting her on the focus – but on the way out of the preserve, she got a great show of one with an appetizer in its mouth: what looked like a Spotted Cucumber Beetle. Score!

Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya. Photo by Roxanne Moger.

As we were going along the road, a driver stopped in his car next to us and told us there were swans and Canvasbacks in the fields along the dirt part of the road. We thanked him and kept heading that way. Many of the fields were filled with Cackling Geese that were really cackling – so much noise! The fence lines were decorated with House Finches and uncooperative Meadowlarks, and we saw the occasional Great Egret or Great Blue Heron in among the cattle in the fields.

There was one Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on top of a telephone pole. He almost blended into the wood, so it took me a minute to realize he was there.  I got some video of him eyeing me before he made the decision to fly off.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis

We also saw some Northern Harriers in flight, including a “gray ghost”, a male. The females and juveniles are brown, and they’re the ones I usually see, but the adult males are a soft dove-gray and I hardly ever get to see them, so it’s always exciting for me to see one, even if I just get a glimpse like I did today.

We also saw a smaller, darker bird kiting over a field and diving into the ground, then saw it land on a distant fence with some kind of small prey. Looking at it through my camera, I thought it might be an immature kite, but once I got my camera home and looked at the images, I could (almost) tell it was a kestrel. It had caught something small and juicy (maybe a small mouse) but I couldn’t tell what it was – the image was too pixelated.

When we got to the flooded field by the dirt road, we did get to see a pair of Tundra Swans fairly close by and some Canvasback ducks.  Along the edge were Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, and American Pippits.  And…. Drumroll… a WILSON’S SNIPE! Yes!

The Snipe was practically under our feet, and was very cooperative. It just walked along calmly in front of us, poking at the mud, sucking up goodies. I got lots of photos and a few video snippets of it. So cool!  Made my day.

On the way out, we saw some gulls fighting over something that some Turkey Vultures were also interested in. They were pretty far away from us in a field, so it was hard to tell what all of the excitement was about, but I think they found the remains of a dead Coot.

Herring Gulls, Larus argentatus

We also passed the guy we’d met at the Cosumnes Preserve. He was so excited and happy about all the birds he’d seen that he was literally hopping in his driver’s seat. He thanked us again for telling him about the place. We’d made his day. That felt so good.

We headed back home around 11 o’clock, after having seen about 40 different species.  I found the bird I wanted, spent time with a friend, and made a stranger happy. It was a fun day.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  4. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  5. Black Angus Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Black Angus
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  8. Blue-Winged Teal, Anas discors
  9. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  10. Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii
  11. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  12. Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria
  13. Charolais Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Charolais
  14. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  15. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  16. Giant Mullein, Broussa Mullein, Verbascum bombyciferum
  17. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  18. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  19. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  20. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  21. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  22. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  23. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  24. Herring Gull, Larus argentatus [spot on bill, gray legs, pale eye]
  25. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  26. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  27. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  28. Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla
  29. Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus
  30. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  31. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  32. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  33. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  34. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  35. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  36. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  37. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  38. Ring-Billed Gull, Larus delawarensis [ black ring, light eye, yellow legs]
  39. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  40. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  41. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
  42. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  43. Spotted Cucumber Beetle, Diabrotica undecimpunctata
  44. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  45. Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus
  46. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  47. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  48. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  49. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  50. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  51. Wilson’s Snipe, Gallinago delicata

Flickers Foraging were the Stand-Outs today, 11-24-20

I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center/Preserve.  It was a slightly foggy, chilly morning, around 34° when I arrived at the river. It only made it to about 61° by the afternoon. I actually like this cooler weather. I didn’t see a whole lot on my walk, but it was great to be moving out in the crisp autumn air.

Lots of Starlings were out singing and chirping to one another. I found one sitting above a cavity and wondered if it was advertising its “love shack”. According to Cornell:

“…Males normally use a song perch 4–10 m from the nest site or a perch mounted on a nest box, but occasionally sit on the ground under the nest site. This song perch may be shared with other males in the vicinity. Singing is sometimes heard at roosts, even at night… Starlings make an impressive range of sounds, including clear whistles, liquid warbling, harsh chattering, high pitched trills, rattles, and strident screams, in addition to mimicry of other sounds (see above). Although the starling’s vocalizations sound quite variable and even garbled at times, they are well organized. Vocalizations can be divided into the structurally more simple calls used by both sexes and songs, used primarily by the male…”

A European Starling singing above the opening of a nesting cavity.

The Starlings are also great mimics. I’ve heard one at Effie Yeaw that does the screel of a Red-Tailed Hawk perfectly.

According to Cornell:

“…Mimicry is an important element in both the whistled and warbled songs (Hausberger et al. 1991). Individuals may mimic up to 20 different calls. In North America, commonly heard mimicries include the Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens), Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), Eastern and Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella magna and S. neglecta; Figures 3b, c), Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), American Robin (Turdus migratorius), American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), and many others. Mimicry may function to increase the repertoire size and potential attractiveness of males…”

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Among all the usual suspects, I did get two see a couple of interesting things.  One was a female Purple Finch who was among the tules in the demonstration pond at the end of the Pond Trail.  She was rubbing her beak and face along the length of a tule, but not really scratching her face or wiping her beak. It was an odd behavior I’d never seen before.  Was she itchy? Was she pulling the foggy-damp of the tule to wet her feathers and in effect wash her face? Was she scraping and nibbling something off the surface of the tule that I couldn’t see?     

Watch the video and tell me what you think.       

I also got to watch a male, red-shafted Northern Flicker eating berries off a Chinese Pistache tree. He was very selective, and only ate those berries that had gone blue. Flickers usually eat ants and other insects as their main food source, but will eat berries and seeds in the winter months if they can’t find enough insects.            

The sme male, red-shafted Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus,sitting on a nearby stump

Further along the trail, I watched another male, red-shafted Flicker foraging on the ground,  According to Cornell:

“…Flickers forage for ants and other insects by probing and hammering in soil with their powerful bills…Flickers have the remarkable protrusile tongue, derived by great elongation of the basihyal and part of the hyoid horns, that is characteristic of woodpeckers. The sticky tongue darts out as much as 4 cm beyond the bill tip as it laps up adult and larval ants…Foraging may also occur in winter (a pair to as many as 12 birds) feeding on a crop of preferred fruit… May occasionally drink from natural catch-basins in trees (e.g., knot-holes)…”   

Here’s a not-so-great video snippet of the Flicker foraging on the ground:

I also have a photo of the depression left in the ground from where the bird was digging. Interesting behavior.

Depression created in the ground by a foraging Northern Flicker.

I found what I believe was a Digger Bee’s mound, and at the “bee tree” there was only one sentry bee again.

A kind of digger bee’s mound.

I walked for about 3 hours and headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  3. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  4. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  5. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  6. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  7. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  8. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis [flying overhead]
  9. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  10. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  11. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos [flying overhead]
  12. Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]
  13. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  14. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  15. Feral European Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  16. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. Peploides
  17. Fluffy Dust Lichen, Pacific Fluffy Dust Lichen, Lepraria pacifica [blue-green dust lichen]
  18. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  19. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  20. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  21. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  22. Lace Lichen, Ramalina menziesii
  23. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  24. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  25. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  26. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  27. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  28. Purple Finch, Haemorhous purpureus
  29. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  30. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  31. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  32. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  33. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  34. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  35. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  36. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  37. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  38. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  39. ?? Goldenrod, Solidago sp.
  40. ?? spider’s web

Ooooo, Otters! 11-20-20

I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed over to Mather Regional Park. It was 47° and very foggy there when I first arrived, but the fog burned off as soon as the sun came up a little bit more.

There was also frost on the ground in the shadier places, and I got some photos of ice crystals on the leaf litter. The glassy-smooth water made for some pretty reflection shots, there were examples of “fall color” all around.

California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii

I had gone there because someone in a birding group had said they saw a Tundra Swan in with the resident Mute Swans in the lake. At first, my photo-taking efforts were thwarted by having the rising sun in my eyes, and the birds not being at all cooperative. I was getting frustrated.  Then I started getting photos of the swans, the small flocks of Coots, and the Pie-Billed Grebes. I noticed there were a LOT of cormorants around the lake, more than I’d ever seen there. So, I walked over to where I could get a better view of the little island there the cormorants usually hangout in the dead tree there, or sun themselves on the shore.

Double-Crested Cormorants, Phalacrocorax auratus, and Mute Swan, Cygnus olor

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

While I was there, looking at the cormorants I could hear some odd vocalizations that I couldn’t quite place coming from the island. Then I saw them… a cadre of River Otters! 

There were four of them, and I got the impression that one was the mom, two were the nearly-adult kids, and one was the dad. Dad had something big that he was eating.  It was difficult to see what it was because he kept it close to the ground in the overgrowth, but I think it was a catfish. He wouldn’t share it with anyone and kept dragging it off whenever the other came near. Mom nuzzled and groomed the younger ones and climbed around the snags and plants on the bank of the island. 

The presence of the otters didn’t seem to bother the birds in the water near them.  At one point, three swans floated right next to where the feeding otter was. They each pretty much ignored the other.

Eventually, all of the otters left the island… with Dad still chewing on a chunk of meat. He had to stop twice, to chew it down before he could swallow it and catch up to the others in the water. They disappeared down the side of the lake, moving so fast that I couldn’t keep up with them.

On that same side of the lake, though, I came across a cottonwood tree that looked like beavers had gotten to it. I haven’t seen any beavers at the lake, but they’re reputed to be there.  Some of the trees are girdled with chicken wire to keep the beavers from eating them. I didn’t think to look for beaver scat among the shavings around the base of the tree, dang it.

Beaver sign on a Cottonwood Tree

I did finally get to see the Tundra Swan, who was moving along quietly, singularly, while some of the Mute Swans sought to harass her. There was one immature grey-morph Mute Swan that tried “busking” at the other swans, until it was put in its place by another adult Mute Swan.

Ayoung dark morph Mute Swan, Cygnus olor, “busking”

When approached or “busked” at, the Tundra swan didn’t give up any ground and just floated away from the aggressors. It’s odd to see single Tundra Swans; they’re social birds and usually travel in large flocks. They also mate for life, and so they travel with their mates once they’ve established a pair bond. I inferred, then, that this lone swan was an unattached younger or less-healthy swan that couldn’t keep up with its flock, and sought out the lake as a place of respite.

A Mute Swan, Cygnus olor, busking at the Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

I also saw quite a few White-Crowned and Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a few House Sparrows, Great-Tailed Grackles, and Killdeer, some Starlings, doves and Scrub Jays. I also got some photos of a Lincoln Sparrow, a Kite in the distance, and a small covey of California Quail among other birds.  So, overall it was a good nature walk.

A male California Quail, Callipepla californica

I was out for about 3 hours and headed back home.

Report Your Otter Sightings!

Don’t forget to report your otter sightings to the River Otter Ecology Project. Be an “Otter Spotter”!

Species List:

  1. American Bugleweed, Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  4. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  6. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flowers]
  7. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  8. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis [sign on tree]
  9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  10. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  11. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  12. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  13. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  14. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  15. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  16. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis [heard]
  17. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  18. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  19. Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum
  20. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  21. Chinese Tallow tree, Triadica sebifera
  22. Chinese Willow, Curly Willow, Salix matsudana
  23. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  24. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  25. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  26. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  27. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  28. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  29. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  30. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  31. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  32. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  33. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  34. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  35. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  36. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  37. Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii
  38. Liquid Ambar, American Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua
  39. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  40. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  41. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  42. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  43. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  44. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  45. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  46. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  47. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  48. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  49. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  50. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  51. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  52. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  53. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus [heard]
  54. Swamp Smartweed, False Water-Pepper, Persicara hydropiperoides [pink]
  55. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  56. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  57. Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus
  58. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  59. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  60. Water Primrose, Ludwigia hexapetala
  61. Western Gull, Larus occidentalis [spot on bill, pink legs, orange circle around eye]
  62. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  63. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys

At Cosumnes and Staten, 11-17-20

I got up around 6:00 this morning and was out the door by 6:30 to head over to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  I wanted to get out and about before the rain, which was predicted to arrive around noon. The cloud cover wasn’t complete yet, but it was enough to keep the long morning shadows at bay, and colored up nicely as the sun rose.

I went around Bruceville and Desmond Roads before going to the preserve itself, and was happy to see Cattle Egrets among the cattle in some of the fields. The cattle were mostly mamas with their calves, and I got to see a few of the calves nursing.  So sweet.

Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis, with Charolais Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Charolais

There were also lots of sparrows: White-Crowned and Golden-Crowned. And, of course, there Brewer’s and Red-Winged Blackbirds everywhere.

There were several hawks out including a Red-Shouldered one and a Red-Tailed Hawk that sat near the top of a telephone pole and seemed to be sort of leaning on it. As I got closer, I was surprised that it didn’t startle and fly away, and I worried that maybe it was sick. When I got closer enough to get a good look at it, though, I realized it was blind on one side. There was swelling and crusty exudate covering the eye.  When the bird turned its head so it was facing me, its bright good eye caught sight of me, and it kept watching me until I moved away.

Elsewhere, in another tree was another Red-Tailed Hawk being harassed by a Kestrel. As fate would have it, my camera battery died before I could get photos of the tiny bird trying to defend its tree. By the time I’d changed out the old battery for a new one and brought my camera up to take photos, the hawk was still there, but the kestrel was gone. Dang it! Such is the naturalist’s lot…

Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis

There was more water in some of the fields than I’d previously seen there, but not too many birds yet. Lots of Pintails and geese an a few gulls, but not much variety otherwise. I was hoping to see a Wilson’s Snipe, but no luck yet.

I did find one spot along the road where I saw a bird sitting in the middle of a field by itself. I thought that was odd, so I parked the car and got out to see if I could get a closer view and photo of it. I realized it was a Northern Harrier. I thought maybe it had brought its breakfast to ground, but no, it was just sitting there, like it was resting up. It shifted in the grass when it realized I was looking at it and then flew off.

Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius, sitting in a field

In the downed tules and grass along that part of the road, though, I found the remains of several crayfish, heads and claws mostly. Considering their number, all in the same area, I wondered if they’d been eaten by the birds or by people.

Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkia

In the preserve itself, they’re still filling the wetland areas with water. The front pond is still empty by the boardwalk, but the back fields are filling up. Again, there weren’t many birds yet, just the occasional Northern Shoveler or Cinnamon Teal. By Thanksgiving we should be seeing more variety out there. Where the water is just starting to come in, everything smells awful (like rotting grass and sour bird droppings) and there’s a kind of “oil slick” on the top of the water.  Once the water reaches a certain level, all of this goes away, but right now the place stinks.

The slick on the stinky water.

At the preserve I saw Killdeer, Stilts and Pipits, but not in large numbers.  As along the roads, there were blackbirds among the tules in the preserve, and sparrows, including some Song Sparrows.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Somewhat disappointed by what I was seeing at the preserve, I decided to drive up to Staten Island Road to see if there was anything interesting there. Several of the agricultural fields have been plowed up, and others were just starting to get plowed, so there was a lot of dust and smell of manure everywhere.  Other fields, though, were nearly completely flooded, and other were left with the remnants of corn plants so the cranes and other birds could forage through them for roots, leaves and discarded corn kernels. There were also cattle in a couple of the fields but they didn’t seem to bother the birds.

There were also lots and lots of handsome Sandhill Cranes, and many of them were close enough to the road to get good photographs of them. In one spot, I was taking pictures of a small flock of them in a field when, to my surprise, two of cranes that were apparently foraging in the ditch along the side of the road, suddenly stood up right in front of me. I was able to get quite a few shots of them before they scuttled away.

Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis

I also got to see some of the cranes dancing. According to Bird Note:

“…The stately cranes are courting, renewing an annual dance they perform in earnest as the days lengthen into spring. The dance begins with a downward bow, the cranes’ long, slender bills nearly touching the ground. Then, like enormous marionettes pulled deftly upward, the cranes leap several feet off the ground, wings outstretched. Bowing and leaping, raising and lowering their wings, the cranes dance on… Sandhill Crane pairs remain together for life, and their spirited dance plays an essential role in reaffirming this bond…They might also throw a stick or some plants into the air.”

Sandhill Cranes, Grus canadensis, dancing

I saw a couple of the cranes tossing vegetation and picking up sticks, but not always while they were dancing. I also caught some photos of one who was jumping so high in the dance, that he jumped up right out of the frame.  Beautiful!

Along with the cranes there were lots of Greater White-Fronted Geese and Cackling Geese, Killdeer, blackbirds, Pipits and House Finches, and a few Meadowlarks. 

In one of the flooded fields there were Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets foraging together. Along the edges of that field were more Kildeer and Pipits, but sadly no Snipes. I didn’t see a single one all day.

A pair of Snowy Egrets, Egretta thula, beside a Great Egret, Ardea alba

In the adjacent field, however, I did get to see some Canvasback ducks. I so seldom see those, that this was a real treat.

Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria, drake

Oddly, too, in two of the fields, I saw Northern Harriers sitting on the ground. I wasn’t able to get any photos of one of them, but I got a few blurry pix as the other took off from the ground and flew away.  Odd to see of the birds just sitting in different fields, in different places, at different times.

Along the fence lines were dozens of House Finches showing off to one another. In some places there were so many of them, I didn’t know where to point the camera first – but I opted to try to focus on the rosy-colored boys.            

House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus, male

I was out for about 6½ hours, and was hungry and hurting by the time I got back to Sacramento

Species List:

  1. American Bugleweed, Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  4. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  5. Black Angus Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Black Angus
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  8. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  9. Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  11. Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria
  12. Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis
  13. Charolais Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Charolais
  14. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  15. Corn, Zea mays ssp. mays
  16. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  17. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. Peploides
  18. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  19. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  20. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  21. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  22. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  23. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  24. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  25. Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla
  26. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  27. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  28. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  29. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  30. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  31. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  32. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  33. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  34. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  35. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  36. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkia
  37. Rice, Oryza sativa
  38. Ring-Billed Gull, Larus delawarensis
  39. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  40. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  41. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  42. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  43. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  44. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  45. Turkey Oak, Quercus cerris
  46. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  47. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  48. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  49. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi [flying overhead]