I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed over to the American River Bend Park for a walk, hoping to see lots of lichen and the first fungi of the season. I was disappointed to see that all of my favorite haunts in the park had been “bulldozed” and “razed”: fallen trees and limbs removed (along with the fungi and micro-critters were making their home on and under them), grasses mowed down, plants pulled out, some fields overturned (decimating the earthstars)… Soooo sad. Stupid humans. There were gigantic blue trash bin everywhere that interfered with the view in some spots.
When I drove into the horse-trailer area, I found that the fallen trees that are usually a great source of Witches’ Butter jelly fungus were all cut up and carried away. *Sigh* — But I did get a glimpse of a large, fat Black-tailed Jackrabbit bounding away from me through the grass.
It was foggy when I first got there, but the fog burned off after the sun had been up for a little while.
As bummed out as I was about not seeing the regular fungus and lichen stuff, I was very happy to see a small herd of deer which included several does, two bucks (3- and 4-pointers) and a young spike buck. I was able to get some buck-and-doe together photos, as well as single shots. They were such lovely creatures!
Looking more closely at my photos, I could see that one of the bucks was sporting wounds from a recent fight. A spot behind one of his antlers was torn open and there was dried blood in his hair, running down his neck. The injury didn’t seem to impair him; he was standing tall by the does, and staring down the other buck nearby. Sometimes jousts can be ugly.
Then when I was walking along the trail that overlooks the river, I saw a Great Blue Heron, a male/female pair of Common Mergansers, a tiny Spotted Sandpiper and a Belted Kingfisher. The water in the river is real low right now (for the spawning salmon) so there are a lot of exposed rocks for the waterfowl to sit on.
On some rocks next to where the heron was, there was a pair of Common Mergansers, a male and female. A second female approached them, wanting to sit on the rocks, too, but the first one tried to scare her off by gaping at her. The second female just found a different nearby rock to sit on.
Male and female Common Mergansers a are good example of sexual dimorphism: their coloration and feathering is totally different. Females are a dirty buff-color with a white breast, and they have a crested rusty-red head. Males are black and white with a dirty buff-colored tail and a dark iridescent greenish head.
As I headed back to my car, I saw some Western Bluebirds and a Red-Breasted Sapsucker (which I hardly ever get to see).
I got up around 8:00 am to a very foggy morning, and decided to gout to the Cosumnes River Preserve in the hopes of finding fog-enhanced spider’s webs along their River Trail. I got there around 9:30 and ended up walking for 4 hours (!). I went from the nature center to the edge of the river and back again (about 3 miles). There’s a truss bridge for the railroad at the end of the trail that crosses over the Cosumnes River where it meets the Mokelumne River.
I didn’t see many webs at all – and it made me wonder if there really were fewer spiders out in the summer, as I suspected. I suppose the rain from yesterday could have wiped them out, but then… why didn’t effect ALL of them? No, I really believe we didn’t see as many spiders this year as we have in years past.
And Nature pretty much played “keep away” from me all during my walk. Less than a handful of spider webs, unable to get photos of birds when I saw them including a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet with his red crown flashing and Spotted Towhees, and an otter. Yeah. I saw an otter. It was sitting on the side of the trail near a shadow-covered pool, and as soon as I lifted my camera to get a photo of it, it slipped into the dark water and disappeared. In another area, a hawk flew right out at me from a tangle of branches alongside the trail, and ducked in behind a tree, so I could only make it out in silhouette. Grrrrr!
I did get quite a few lichen photos, though, and some photos of Fox Sparrows and a Great Blue Heron.
The stand-out moment for the day was being able to see this little Fox Squirrel adding leaves to her nest (“drey”). She didn’t get leaves from the ground, she took them from the tree so they weren’t wet and mushy. She’d place them in her mouth horizontally, and carry them up to the drey to carefully place them inside.
This was all I could get on video. The rest of the tree had lots of crossing stickery branches that made it impossible for the camera to see through them. I liked this bit, though, especially when she looks up over the rim of the drey.
“…The squirrel begins by roughly weaving a platform of live green twigs. On top of this, soft, compressible materials like moss and leaves are added. Then an outer skeleton of twigs and vines is built around the insulated core, and finally, additional material fills in and strengthens the shell…” — NY Times
“…Dreys must protect against the environment, and require constant upkeep to remain water and predator-resistant. Squirrels often build more than one in a season, as reserve nests, lest the primary drey be disturbed by predators or overrun by fleas or lice. Some dreys have been observed in use for more than a decade by multiple generations of squirrels, although the average drey may be used only a year or two before being abandoned. If used repeatedly, squirrels must constantly maintain their drey, replenishing twigs and leaves as necessary. Remnants of an abandoned nest may be visible for years…” — Wikipedia
The easiest way to tell a drey from a bird’s nest is to look for the leaves. Squirrels use a lot of them; birds tend not to use them at all.
All of the other squirrels I saw today were either chasing each other or eating.
I was frustrated by the photo-taking but appreciated the exercise… even though I was totally exhausted by the time I made it make to the car. I had been breathing cold air all morning, during my exertion, so my voice was shot for a couple of hours until my vocal cords warmed up enough again.
I got home around 2:30 pm – in need of lunch and my pain meds.
American Bugleweed, Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus
American Coot, Fulica americana
Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
Black Jelly Roll fungus, Exidia glandulosa
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
Brown Jelly Fungus, Jelly Leaf, Tremella foliacea
Bumpy Rim-Lichen, Lecanora hybocarpa [hoary with black or brown apothecia]
Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
California Blackberry, Trailing Blackberry, Rubus ursinus
California Camouflage Lichen, Melanelixia californica [dark green with brown apothecia, on trees]
California Pore Lichen, Pertusaria californica
California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
Chinese Praying Mantis, Tenodera sinensis [ootheca]
I got up around 5:30 this morning so I could head out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refugewith my friend Roxanne – and my dog Esteban! — at 6:00 am. We put Esteban in the back seat in his soft crate, and it seemed to fit just fine.
We stopped first for coffee and a breakfast sammich and then were on the freeway. When he wasn’t napping on his pillow in his crate, Esteban was whining… You can probably hear him in the background of every video snippet I took.
When we got to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the sun was just coming up over the Sutter Buttes, all fiery red and orange, and Roxanne said it looked like Mordor. Hah! I tried to get a photo, but the image doesn’t do the scene justice.
Because the air was relatively calm for the most part and there was an overcast, the reflection of things off the water was lovely. And we didn’t have to deal with harsh shadows or too much light. We stopped at the park-and-stretch areas to let Esteban out for potty.
Along the route, we saw lots of raptors: Red-Tailed Hawks, Red-Shouldered Hawks, American Kestrels, Northern Harriers… and Bald Eagles! We saw one in the “eagle tree”, and then Rox spotted another one in a eucalyptus tree just as we were exiting the auto tour route. The one in the “eagle tree” was almost in its full adult color, but it still had some dark streaks in its “hair”. I guessed that it was probably about 3½ years old, and Cornell agreed:
“…The head undergoes changes with progressive molts, from dark brown in juvenile to white in adult. Older immature (i.e., 3.5 yr. old) may have a largely white head with brown-gray flecking extending posterior from the eye, giving the appearance of having an eye-stripe…”
What was kind of funny-gross about that one was while I was taking photos of it, it bent forward and pooped out onto the road. So much for being “majestic”. Hah!
There were lots of Coots out, of course, but we had one who stepped away from his buddies in the water, came upon a berm next to the road and walked right out toward the car. It stopped to rub its bill on the ground and, we think, take in some of the dirt and gravel with side-bill bites at the ground. I’d never seen that behavior before and I tried to get some video of it. Coots, like many birds, have crops and gizzards, and often eat fine gravel to help these organs “chew up” and process their food. That might have been what we were seeing – I just thought the side-bill scoop was unusual. We also used this opportunity to get some photos of the coot’s wonderful feet with those big lobed toes.
In the part of the slough nearest to the gate that opens onto the extension loop (which is now closed) we saw more Coots, several immature Common Gallinules, a Pied-Billed Grebe, a pair of Gadwalls… and a Sora! We were hoping to see some Bitterns, but no such luck.
We saw some small flocks of Lesser Goldfinches flitting through the weeds and thistles along the side of the auto tour route. They were quite adept at cracking off the spines on the Yellow Starthistles and teasels to get to the fluff and seeds.
As I was trying to get some video of them, Rox let me know that there was a giant truck coming up behind us on the narrow road carrying a load of porta-potties. She pulled the car off the road as far as she could, but it was still a pretty tight squeeze. We later saw the same truck trying to turn around at the viewing platform, but it didn’t drop any of its cargo as far as we could tell.
Further along the route, we saw some Red-Winged Blackbirds flitting up into a nearby tree with the burrs from the cocklebur plants. It amazes me how adept these birds are at getting what they want out of the hardest thorniest places.
As we went along, we came across lots of Northern Shovelers, including several pairs that were doing the “vortex” thing. They’d swim in tight circles on the surface of the water, churning up goodies from the bottom in little swirling tornado of water then feed.
Among the flocks of Snow Geese – which numbered in the thousands — we saw several juveniles, and some dark morph “Blue Geese” ones that have dark bodies and a white head.
We also found a small herd of Columbian Black-Tailed Deer. We stopped to get some photos of them, and noticed one of the park attendant’s trucks coming at a speed we thought was way too fast. The deer were at a bend in the road, and we were afraid the driver wouldn’t see them and might hit one of them, so both Rox and I yelled as loudly as we could out the open windows of the car, “STOP! LOOK OUT!”
The gal driving the truck slammed on her brakes and ended up parallel to Rox’s car. She was so startled an apologetic, we kind of felt sorry for having yelled at her. We told her about the deer, and she understood our concern… and continued forward on the road going much slower.
Around 11 o’clock, we stopped in the refuge parking lot and had some lunch, before heading over to the Maxwell Cemetery in the little town of Maxwell. We’d been over there a couple of times before looking for the famous little Vermilion Flycatcher that lives there. The previous times, we had no luck at all, but today we were able to see quite a bit of him. Rox spotted him first, sitting on top of one of tombstones.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos from Maxwell and Colusa.
These gorgeous little guys are normally only seen in Central and South America, and there are a few in Southern California, so to see one up this far north is a real treat. This little guy has been around for a few years now, and is probably one of the most-photographed birds on Facebook. I think we saw a female one, too, but I’m not experienced enough to really tell them from Say’s Phoebes. I believe it was a Say’s… it looked “too dark” to be a Vermilion flycatcher to me, but who knows.
The bird at the cemetery is bright red and black, but very small, and very fast, so it was sometimes difficult to keep track of him. He exhibited the “flycatcher” behavior we’ve come to recognize in the Black Phoebes: perching, then flitting to the ground, then flitting up back to the perch again. When we lost track of him, a gal who was out there with her boyfriend pointed the bird out to us again.
When I posted photos of the little bugger on Facebook I was surprised it got over 475 hits in just one day, and 14 shares within a few hours. There were also these stand-out comments:
Rachael C: Were you there? I must have just missed you! [She’s the former volunteer coordinator at Effie Yeaw.]
Cassie C:I saw you two today, I was the person who pointed out this little cutie! What a great day for birding! Beautiful photos
Tiffany W: How funny! I was there on the same day. I stopped by once in the morning with no luck but I did briefly see a barn owl. I stopped by again in the afternoon and the caretaker actually pointed him out on a tombstone. He must be used to all the crazy birders showing up all the time 😁
Tiffany mentioned the barn owl. I’d heard he was out there, too, day-roosting in the cedar trees. I looked for him, but didn’t find him. Timing is everything, I guess. It drizzled a little bit while we were there, but we’d stayed pretty much ahead of the rain that was predicted for the afternoon.
After about an hour there, we headed over to the Colusa Wildlife Refuge, our last stop of the day. Among the usual ducks and geese, we also saw a couple of deer, a blue-billed Ruddy Duck (at a distance), and a Turkey Vulture that had found a good carcass to eat from. While it ate, a second vulture flew in to try to join in the feast. When the first vulture shooed him away, the second vulture kept trying to sneak up to grab some leftovers.
In the long agricultural ditch along the auto tour route, we saw a Double Crested Cormorant swallowing down a fish. I lamented that I hadn’t gotten any photos of it. Then just a few seconds later, the same cormorant appeared in the same place with a second larger fish! Here’s what I was able to get… Rox was driving and was backing up the car to try to keep pace with the bird while I filmed it. She did great!
What a great fisherman that bird was… I think he was eating a carp. And I couldn’t believe he got that thing down his throat!
We also saw a Great Blue Heron, several hawks and a pheasant along the side of the same ditch. In another area, we saw a second Great Blue Heron but he was all hunched down and sitting in the water. He looked so cold!
The large flock of Black-Crowned Night Herons was back at the end of the auto tour route, after being absent for a couple of months. There must’ve been a couple of hundreds of them, juveniles and adults. It was nice to see them all back again – even though they were all asleep.
In one pond, we were watching some Pintails trying to feed from the bottom of one of the ponds. Pintails are dabbling ducks, not diving ducks, so we were impressed by those that dove right in and fully submerged. One of them was trying to dive further, but was too buoyant, and he sat, tipped butt-up on the surface, kicking at the water. Hah!
It was starting to get colder and darker by the time we finished the tour. We stopped near the exit to reaffix our seatbelts, take a potty break, and bring Esteban up into the front seat with me. I laid the seat back a bit, so he could sit on my chest instead of me painful thigh. (I had to take pain meds twice while we were out, but didn’t mind because the trip was so much fun.)
What we didn’t see today that we expected and normally do see were a lot of the little shorebirds, like the Greater Yellowlegs, and the turtles. We even saw far fewer Killdeer than we normally see.
In the late afternoon, it started to rain in earnest and we drove through that all the way home, arriving at the house in the dark around 6:30 pm. That was a long day for us, about 13 hours — and over 1400 photos taken! Thanks for being my chauffeur, Roxanne!
I felt like I wasn’t getting any kind of exercise at all lately (because of The Poltergeist), so I got my carcass up around 6:30 this morning and headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. It was about 34° when I got to the river, but it warmed up to about 63° by the time I left. There were clouds, but they seemed more “decorative”, not really organized.
I wasn’t looking for anything in particular today, so I was more open to seeing whatever Nature wanted to show me. It seemed to be all squirrels, deer, and fighting turkeys. I didn’t see any of the larger bucks, but I did see several 2-pointers and spike bucks chasing does around. No sparring, though. The big boys usually show themselves later in December when the rut is full on.
Among the spike bucks, I saw one with mismatched tines, one long and one short. I watched that youngster as he walked around and I seemed to me he had a slight limp in one of his hind legs. “…Usually, but not always, the deformed antler will appear on the side opposite of the leg that suffered the nerve damage. So, nerve damage in the right hind leg may show up, through systemic influence, as a deformed left antler…”CLICK HERE for my article on deer antlers.
At one point, I was amid several small groups of the deer and they all stopped perfectly still, and looked in the same direction, pricking their ears as though listening for something. I wondered if there were coyotes nearby. Whatever it was, the collective action freaked me out a little bit. The deer could hear something I couldn’t.
I noticed, as I was taking photos, that in some areas the deer stopped at places where it was obvious the larger bucks had been scraping their antlers (and leaving scent) on the trees. The bark was rubbed completely off in some places on the younger trees.
The turkeys are going through setting up their hierarchies for the season and there was a lot of very loud fighting throughout the preserve. Males are battling males and females are battling females. What I saw today was the “pre-fighting” – jumping and kicking with their spurred feet. When the battles get really serious, one bird will grab the face or beak of the other bird, and neck-wrestle him to the ground. The kick-boxing fights got so loud and aggressive that they frighted some of the other nearby noncombative turkeys, who then flew up into the trees all around me. One of them was a leucistic female, and her white-ish feathers really showed up in the high branches.
According to Cornell: “…Snood of submissive bird retracts and bird moves away. Winner may follow with snood extended, head held high, threatening or pecking submissive bird; winner, if male, may shift to courtship. Males fight more vigorously than females but pattern is the same in both sexes… Gobbling elicits gobbling in other individual males in reflex-like fashion so that whenever one male of a group gobbles, other males join in, with a delay of 100–800 msec…”
There was lots of gobbling, and snoods retracting or flopping around everywhere today. Hah! One of the fights progressed down the trail right next to me, and I was afraid for a moment that I’d be caught in the middle of it. The brawl moved by so swiftly though, I don’t know if the birds even knew I was there. I did have to watch my head, though, when the turkeys in the trees decided to come down. They’re not the most graceful of flyers and kind drop like stones.
As for the squirrels, it seemed like the Eastern Fox Squirrels were just totally wired. They were chasing each other all over the place, and even the ones that were sitting and eating acorns looked like they were on speed. They all gave me a chuckle.
As I was heading out of the preserve, I came across a Ground Squirrel who was busy trying to dig up goodies from under the leaf litter and eating shard of green grass. As he was digging, the squirrel would taste things he came across and throw away those things that didn’t interest his palate.
Of course, this time of year means a lot of leaf litter on the ground, so as I was leaving, I stopped to get photos of those leaf-collections that seemed prettiest to me. And then I got the extra bonus of seeing some Lesser Goldfinches and an Oak Titmouse flitting among the tules in the demonstration pond.
I was a little stiff, and my hip complained a tiny bit, but I still managed to walk for 3 hours. My sister Monica suggested I call my pain syndrome “Methuselah” instead of “The Poltergeist”. Hah! That’s probably more appropriate.
Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
I got up around 6:00 this morning, and was out the door by 6:30 to go out to the Mather Lake Regional Park for a walk with my friend Roxanne. It was about 37° when we got to the lake, clear and “crisp”. It was a super-fun, super busy wildlife day. There were actually times when we were telling Mother Nature, “Wait a minute, I want to get photos of this before you show me that!” Hah!
As we were stalking a Great Egret on the side of the lake, we noticed movement on the water beside us. Inside a little hidey-hole we saw a muskrat eating his breakfast. Right near him was a Green Heron trying to eat a “huge” fish. And then a Black Phoebe flew in…
The whole morning was like that — so much life everywhere.
We could see Belted King Fishers flying and face-planting in the water after fish. They move sooooo fast! One of them parked itself on the telephone wire over where the muskrat and friends were found, and I was able to get a so-so photo of it.
And in the same area as the Great Egret on the bank, we saw a pair of Great Blue Herons. We couldn’t tell if their behavior was aggressive or courtship-like, but they kept in close proximity to one another. When one flew to a different part of the bank, the other flew onto a nearby trail so it could keep an eye on the first one. Then when that one flew to a different part of the bank, the other flew into a tree nearby. It was like they were “stalking” each other, getting close but not too close. I tried looking up the behavior in Cornell, but couldn’t really find anything that corresponded to what we were seeing.
I came across the cottonwood tree that was further “excavated” by a beaver (we could see the teeth-marks in the wood), and was surprised to see it blooming with clusters of oyster mushrooms, some black ants, and outcroppings of that Cytospora Canker I just learned to identify yesterday!
I really think that given another week or so, that beaver will have that tree felled and in the water. I also think we spotted the beaver den today, too.
On the lake was the lone Tundra Swan among the Mute Swans, Roxanne found a Fox Sparrow, and I found a Western Bluebird that looked almost sooty-dark.
There were LOADS of Double-Crested Cormorants in the water and in the trees along the edge, grayish juveniles and dark adults. In the water, we also saw a few Buffleheads (!). Then we were surprised by the appearance of a single otter. She poked her head up a few times before swimming off.
There was just so much to see today. I was VERY pleased with the visit.
At one point, while we were heading back to the car, we came across a spot where tree roots were clogging up the trail and I didn’t think I could walk over them. So, I opted instead to walk along the edge of the trail under the branches of a willow tree. As I was ducking under them and moving along, a blackberry vine got wrapped up around my shoe, tripping me, and I fell forward against the tree. Now, for me, that’s “near fatal” because once I’m down, I can’t get back up onto my feet by myself (a combination of muscle weakness and pain in my left hip caused by arthritis and a pinched nerve). Luckily, Rox was with me. She stepped in behind me and lifted me upon to my feet while I used the narrow tree trunk like a handicapped bar to pull myself up. Between the two of us, we got me back up onto my feet. The fall tweaked out my hip joint a bit, but I was still able to walk the rest of the way back to the car. Phew! Thanks, again, Rox for being there and being such a good friend!
We took the scenic route back home, following Zinfandel down toward the vernal pool area where the road is no longer paved all the way to where it intersected with Jackson and other recognizable roads…
American Bugleweed, Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus
American Coot, Fulica americana
American Kestrel, Falco sparverius [in flight]
Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flowers]
Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis [sign and den]
Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
Black Garden Ant, Common Black Ant, Lasius niger
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
California Quail, Callipepla californica
California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
Callery Pear, Pyrus calleryana
Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
Chinese Willow, Curly Willow, Salix matsudana
Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas
Coyote Brush Stem Gall moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella
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.
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…”
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.
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 Roadourselves. 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!
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.
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.
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.