Out For the First Time Since My Surgery, 02-02-22

On February 2nd, Groundhog Day, I got up at 6:30, but asked my friend Roxanne to wait until around 8:00 AM to pick me up, so I could see to my sister Melissa’s dogs and make sure she was okay enough to leave at home after her tumble yesterday.

I felt guilty leaving Melissa behind for a few hours, but I also knew that I HAD to get outside and see some nature. [I’d been confined for a MONTH by my surgery recovery, and was “going crazy” inside.]

It’s that wicked balance between self-care and caring for others.

This was the first time I’d sat up in a moving vehicle for any length of time. And I was worried that the bumps in the road, the start-stop motion in traffic, and the pressures of velocity on my core would be rough. But I didn’t have any pain except for a slight pinch at the bottom end of my surgery scar. Even Roxanne commented that she noticed I was doing so much better than I had been before surgery.

We went to the Consumnes River Preserve with the idea of doing a drive around the surrounding ag lands and then walk one of the level trails at the preserve. But it was sooooo windy and sooooo cold, that after a while we nixed the idea of doing a walk. The wind was so strong it blew our cameras all over the place, and kept whipping twigs, grasses and birds back and forth, so taking photos was a struggle. Still, we saw more bird species than I thought we would.

The wind had knocked huge flocks of geese out of the sky and onto the ground, so some of the fields were just bursting with them. Hundreds of birds here, hundreds of birds there; mostly Greater White-Fronted Geese and Snow Geese. 

Snow Geese and Greater White-Fronted Geese in one of the ag fields near the prserve

Along Bruceville and Desmond Roads, many of the fields were flooded and full of waterfowl that were trying to eat even though the wind was knocking them around: Northern Pintails, Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, Green-Winged Teals, Killdeer, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Least Sandpipers, a Bufflehead, some American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers and Greater Yellowlegs.

There was so much chop on the water in some of the fields because of the stiff wind, that the birds were literally bouncing up and down over the waves.  

We were surprised that there were fewer Coots than we thought there should be.

In one of the oak trees along the road, we saw two nests that were RED. They were hanging basket-type nests, so I was thinking maybe they were made by Bullock’s Orioles. [See the photo at https://nestwatch.org/connect/home-tweet-home/bullocks-oriole-nest/ for comparison.] We thought the “red” we were seeing was shredded plastic fencing the birds had woven into the nests.

There were lots of Western Meadowlarks in the tall grass, but they were too fast for us, using the winds to help them whisk from one spot to another.

We also saw quite a few Sandhill Cranes. In one spot there were 10 of them lined up, calling to each other as a Northern Harrier hawk flew over their heads. One of the cranes in this group had a small band on one leg, but I couldn’t see any markings on it. Further along the road, we found two cranes that were standing pretty close to the road, so we were able to get some close-ups of them.

One of the cool things we saw was a Great Egret preparing to eat what looked like a vole it had caught. The bird must’ve done a stab and grab to get the vole because its beak was covered in blood. The egret was behind a stickery bush, and I tried to make sure the camera was focused on the bird and not the plant when I tried to get a video of it, but, of course, it focused on the plant instead. Grrrrr! So, all I got was a crisp in-focus bush and a fuzzy bird behind it.  So aggravating!

As we were leaving the preserve area, a car coming down the road from our left slowed to a stop beside Roxanne’s car and the people inside were pointing and looking up. We both looked around and realized there was a Bald Eagle flying overhead! It flew off across the street in front of us and cruised the fields there, scaring up all the resting waterfowl from the ground. We didn’t see it dive at anything, and then lost track of it, so we didn’t know if it was hungry and doing a precursory flight, or if it was just being a butthead. Hah!

As I mentioned before, because it was so cold, we didn’t go for a walk in the area, and instead did a fast driver over to Staten Island Road to see what the bird situation was like over there. 

On the hills beside the entrance to the road, was a big flock of sheep, adults and kids, being “guarded” by two large dogs. One of the dogs was at the top of the hill, looking bored to death, not even moving when the sheep walked by it. The other dog was in the grass at the bottom of the hill, licking its privates.  Must’ve been lunch-break time.

In the remains of corn stalks in one of the ag fields were flocks of Cackling Geese dotted with a few Sandhill Cranes.  In another field we saw a very large flock of the cranes, 78 of them, all in the line, feeding, trying to stay “under” the gusts of wind.

We also saw several small groups of Tundra Swans. One group was being followed some Canvasback Ducks, and another was being followed by a few Rudy Ducks. In fact, there were quite a few Ruddy Ducks in the fields out there, bouncing on the waves in the water like bathtub toys. Among them was a solitary Eared Grebe.

Here, too, we saw small shorebirds and larger waterfowl, but nothing new or unexpected. So, we did a quick turn-around and headed back home. We were out for about 4 hours, and got back to the house a little after noon… Melissa was up and having lunch with the dogs, so I knew she was feeling at least bit better.

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Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  4. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  5. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  6. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii [nests]
  7. Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii
  8. Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria
  9. Dog, Canis lupus familiaris
  10. Eared Grebe, Podiceps nigricollis
  11. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  12. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  13. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  14. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  15. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  16. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  17. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  18. Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla
  19. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
  20. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  21. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  22. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  23. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  24. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  25. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
  26. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  27. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  28. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  29. Sheep, Ovis aries
  30. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  31. Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus
  32. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  33. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  34. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli