The Necessity for Fishing Line Clean-Up, 01-20-21

Birthday Week Day Four: I got up around 7:00 am and around 7:30 headed over to the Mather Lake Regional Park where I met up with fellow naturalist, Rachael. Rachael had never been there before, so it was fun showing her around and telling her where we usually see what. We actually got to see [and hear] quite a lot.

Rachael had brought her spotting scope out to see if we could see anything a little bit better. We tried to get it to focus on an osprey and a pair of White-Tailed Kites that were sharing a tree on the opposite side of the lake. It took a while to get the scope to cooperate, adjusting this, tilting that, readjusting… but we DID get a view of the birds and were able to see that the osprey was a female (with a necklace of dark spots around her neck).

A female Osprey, Pandion haliaetus, with a White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus, behind her. You can tell the female Ospreys from the males by the necklace of spots hanging down from around their neck.

The scope was too cumbersome to carry along the mostly-narrow trails around the lake, so it was returned to Rachael’s car before we carried on.

There was birdsong all around today, including the sounds of California Quail, Great-Tailed Grackles, and Northern Flickers. There were Great Blue Herons on the shoreline as well as Great Egrets.  Among the Great Blue Herons we saw today, was a bonded pair of the birds that were flying back and forth across the lake. This one landed in the top of the tree… It’s so interesting to watch their dance.

Lots of Double-Crested Cormorants in the trees and the water. We also saw several Nuttall’s Woodpeckers including both a male and a female that stopped longs  enough for me to get some photos of them.

We were surprised to see a solitary male Canvasback Duck swimming on the lake. And also saw a solitary male Bufflehead and Wigeon.  What is it that causes these males to go off on their own? Are they ahead of the flock or behind it?

The family of River Otters was out an about, but they were tucked in along the edges of the island for the most part, too far away to get really good photos of them. We saw one of them exit the water and gallop through the tules – in and out of sight. The kind of roll and waddle when they’re on land, but in the water, they’re all silk.

North American River Otters, Lontra canadensis

We also saw a pair of White-Tailed Kites who were murmuring quietly to one another and flying in “soft circles” with their legs down. Rachael and I wondered if that was courtship behavior, so I looked it up when I got home and – yep! We were right. “Leg hanging” is part of the courtship and territorial behavior, and is usually done over a potential nesting site! Wow, wouldn’t it be great if we could see a kite nest here?!

White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

When we were near the end of the trail on the “golf”-side of the lake we could hear a goose calling but with a rattling, pain-filled honk like nothing we’d ever heard before. We followed the sound out to the edge of the water where there was a flattened out patch of tules. Rachael ventured out as far as she could without getting her feet wet, and took some video of the goose as it struggled to breathe and coughed and gently shook its head.  It was out in the water, floating there, so we couldn’t get close enough to it to “rescue” it.

Rachael getting some video of the goose in distress.

When I got home, I looked up goose diseases to try to figure out what the bird might be suffering from, and was surprised by the number of diseases they can get, including coccidiosis and avian influenza (especially prevalent in Canada Geese). Wow. Many of the diseases are caused by their living and feeding in water that is contaminated by animal feces…

When I posted the find to Facebook, another friend, Allyson Seconds, saw the post and passed it on to her animal rescuer friend, Ben Nuckolls. Ben had been getting several calls about the goose and had been trying to rescue it, but it kept evading him. He asked for more details on the one we saw, and Rachael responded with:

“…I could not see any obvious injury or entanglement. The piercing sound is what attracted our attention. The goose continually put its bill in the water and withdraw and shake its head gently. Then it would follow with what I would describe as a cough since the entire chest and abdomen expanded and contracted as it make the loud piercing sound. It would periodically open its bill briefly too. I have video and will pm it too you…”

Ben wrote: “…I’m still suspecting the ingestion of fishing line or fish hook because this lake is known for its many entanglement hazards. Disease cases would most likely show up in more than one goose at a time and not be an isolated goose. If I can catch it, I will examine all the possibilities…”

Ben went out to look for the bird, and sadly found it – dead in the water. Closer inspection showed it “had an obstruction of fishing line and a hook down its throat”. Ben’s photos showed the obstruction suffered by the goose. It was ghastly.

Photo by Ben. The dead goose with fishing line and hooks inside its mouth and throat.

I knew the geese and ducks could get tangled in fishing line (and have seen ones who log a leg or had a wind sawed off by the stuff, by it didn’t occur to me that the birds might EAT it.  I suppose if it’s wrapped up in the water vegetation they eat, or if there’s still a lure and hook attached to it they might think that’s a meal and gobble it up. This particular goose had a hook lodged in its throat and wad of the line bunched up inside its mouth… so it couldn’t eat and had trouble breathing. Good lord, poor thing. Cast off line and dropped hooks is a major problem at the lake, but the park doesn’t have enough personnel to do the recon and clean-up of the stuff.

We walked for about 3 hours and then headed back to our respective homes. Rachael said she’s been looking for places nearby that are relatively easy to walk but still have a nature component to them, so I suggested she check out my website; there are lots of sites listed there. This was walk #7 in my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. ?? Snake bones
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  4. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  6. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  9. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  10. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  11. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  12. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  13. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria
  16. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  17. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  18. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  19. Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens
  20. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  21. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  22. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  23. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  24. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  25. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  26. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  27. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  28. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  29. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  31. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  32. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  33. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  34. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  35. Osprey, Pandion haliaetus
  36. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  37. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus [heard]
  38. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  39. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  40. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  41. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  42. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  43. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  44. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  45. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  46. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  47. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  48. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus

Post Script:

Ben set up an impromptu clean-up for volunteers at the park the next day.  They found one more dead goose and another one that was coughing and wheezing. It was taken to Gold Country Wildlife Rescue to be rehabilitated.