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