Birding at the Cosumnes Preserve, 02-06-23

I got up around 7:00 AM and got myself ready to go out to the Cosumnes River Preserve. I left the house around 9:00 AM, going “late” because it was only 38º F outside, and I wanted to wait until it warmed up a little bit hoping the birds would be more active then. The wait didn’t seem to make much of a difference, though. A stiff wind was blowing at and around the preserve, which made the air feel colder, and kept the birds in hiding or on the ground. It made me bundle up. Brrrr!

During the drive to the preserve, I didn’t see very many hawks which to me is an indicator of a slow birding day. That was negated, however, when along Franklin Blvd. in one of the agricultural fields, I saw a small group of Sandhill Cranes. Woot!

Along Bruceville and Desmond Road, most of the fields had been plowed up and made ready for planting, so there was no water in them, and they weren’t attracting any birds. Even the sparrows and other small birds were missing in that area. In the fields were there was standing water I saw lots of flocks of American Wigeons and Northern Pintails. The Pintails, of course, are the first of the migrating birds to come into the area, and the last to leave. And, as always, there were large flocks of American Coots everywhere.

In one spot, among the tules, there was a Black Phoebe flying back and forth, doing its flycatcher thing. When it finally settled onto a branch for few seconds, I noticed that on the end of the branch was a tight cluster of Broad-Striped Lady Beetles. I didn’t see the Phoebe eat them, but they seemed like an easy breakfast for him.

As I drove over to the boardwalk parking area, I noticed there was a lot of water in the ditches on either side of the road, and the pond by the parking lot was pretty full. All that water invites the crayfish to move into the area, which attracts otters and mink. It also provides the promise of breeding grounds to insects like dragonflies and damselflies. Let’s see how long the preserve keeps that water where it is.

At the boardwalk here was also a good amount of water on the ground, so much that in some spots it came very near to touching the bottom of the wooden boardwalk. In this area there were a lot of of sparrows, including the first Golden-Crowned Sparrows I’d seen this year. I also saw a House Finch that was sporting bright yellow-orange coloring instead of the normal red. As for the ducks, there were a lot of Green-Winged Teals around.

It was fun to see a huge flock of Snow Geese flying overhead. I couldn’t see where they were landing, however.

The best and most satisfying sighting of the day, though, was being able to see a Sora walking softly through the tules. These birds are migratory, and usually fly during the night, then rest and feed during the day before they set up nests (made of tules). I seldom get the chance to see them because they are so shy and can move quickly through the tules (without disturbing anything, so you can’t track them by looking for movement in the vegetation.

I first saw this Sora near the boardwalk, only briefly, when it ducked back into the tules and all I could see of it was its white rump feathers. I stood nearby for a while to see if it would come back out, but the wind was so intense and so cold, it was hard for me to stand in one place. So, I decided to continue on with my walk and look for the Sora again on the way back to the car.

Luckily, the Sora was out more when I came back to see it, and I was able to get photos and video snippets of it. Sometimes it came up right along the edge of the boardwalk, plucking at vegetation in the water. It made me happy to see her.

When I was done at the preserve, I decided to drive up the highway to Staten Island Road to see if there was anything there to see. As with the fields along Bruceville Road, many of the fields along Staten had been plowed up and made ready for planting, so they had no standing water on them. Another field was set up with a complex sprinkler system on it which discouraged the birds. Usually, Sandhill Cranes are seen a lot along this road, but today, I think I only saw two or three and they were very distant from the road, so difficult to photograph.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There were fields filled with Snow Geese; so many it was almost impossible to count them. Among them were some Greater White-Fronted Geese and small flocks of Cackling Geese.

When the paved part of the road gave way to the dirt part of the road, I was concerned that the dirt part would be muddy and full of potholes, but it was mostly dry, no mud, and only had a handful of shallow potholes in it, so it was easy to drive on. And there were no big trucks out there today. Thankfully.

A few of the fields along the dirt part of the road had water in them, and in those I could see flocks of Tundra Swans and a variety of smaller ducks — a lot of the usual suspects — as well as a good showing of the tiny Ruddy Ducks. The Ruddies always remind me of the bathtub toy “Rubber Ducky”. The male Ruddies weren’t in their breeding plumage yet, but I saw a few that were already getting a blue wash on their bills. With the stiff wind blowing, the little Ruddies were often swamped by the waves on the shallow water.

In one area, I saw a juvenile Herring Gull tearing the feathers off of a dead Ruddy Duck in anticipation of being able to eat it. Gulls are opportunistic feeders, and carrion is sometimes on the menu.

According to Cornell: “…[E]xtraordinarily opportunistic; will at times eat just about any food that fits down its throat. Apparent preferences: live animal prey and larger prey that can economically be subdued and swallowed. But carrion and leftovers from garbage dumps are sometimes a large element of diet, as are, at times, even plant foods; e.g., garbage-feeding gulls sometimes take large pieces of vegetables, and individuals are known to eat large numbers of ripe cherries…”

I also saw a female Bufflehead Duck swimming with her mouth open, like the bottom part of her bill was broken. Weird and sad…In domestic ducks that suffer this kind of injury, their owners can work to correct the issue by resetting the bottom half of the beak. But in the wild, on its own, this bird probably will not survive.

When I was driving over to Staten Island Road, I saw a lot of American Kestrels, and I was hoping there would be some along Staten I could get photos of. [Bad grammar, I know.] I ended up seeing two: one that was on a telephone wire with its butt turned toward me, and another that flew up onto a large orange piece of field equipment.

My favorite sighting here, though, was being able to see a Loggerhead Shrike on a barbed wire fence. The Shrikes often impale their prey on the spines of the barbed wire fences, but this time I couldn’t see any of that behavior.

I was out for about 5½ hours, and got home a little after 3:00 PM after stopping to pick up some lupper and put gas in my car. This was walk #3 of my #52HikeChallenge for the year.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  4. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  5. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  8. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  9. Broad-Striped Lady Beetle, Paranaemia vittigera
  10. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  11. Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  14. Dunlin, Calidris alpina
  15. Field Mustard, Brassica rapa
  16. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  17. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  18. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  19. Grebe, Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  20. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  21. Gull, Larus sp.
  22. Gull, Herring Gull, Larus argentatus
  23. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  24. Jointed Charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum
  25. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  26. Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla
  27. Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus
  28. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
  29. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  31. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  32. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  33. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  34. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  35. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  36. Red-Shouldered Hawk, California Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus elegans
  37. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus [heard]
  38. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  39. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia [along the road]
  40. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  41. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  42. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  43. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  44. Sora, Porzana carolina
  45. Sparrow, Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  46. Sparrow, House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  47. Sparrow, White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  48. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  49. Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus
  50. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  51. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  52. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus [kiting along the road]
  53. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  54. Willows, Salix sp.

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