At the Cosumnes Preserve, I was surprised to see dozens of Tree Swallows flying all over the place and congregating in large numbers among the tules and on the road! I guess they were sitting on the road to get warm, but I’d never seen Tree Swallows do that before. There were adults and juveniles in the mix. Because there were so many of the Swallows around, lots of the photos I took there had photo-bombing Swallows in them.
I walked along the boardwalk and around an adjacent pond, and saw a few birds (maybe about 18 species). There were a lot of Long-Billed Dowitchers “slumming” with the ducks, Killdeer, and other shorebirds; and the tiny Marsh Wrens were singing their buzzy songs from both sides of the boardwalk.
I was there for about 90 minutes and then headed to William Land Park.
Around 7:00 am I headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk. It was super foggy all the way to the preserve. In some places, the fog was so thick I could only see a car length or two in front of me. When I got to the preserve, the fog had lifted up a little bit, but was still hovering near the ground. I wasn’t expecting to see a lot in this kind of weather. The dark skies fool the birds into thinking it’s earlier in the day than it really is, so they sleep in a little bit. One good thing about fog, though, is that is sometimes clings to the spiders’ webs, and you can get some interesting shot of those (if the light hits them just right.)
CLICK HERE for the album of photos and video snippets.
I drove down Bruceville Road before going to the preserve’s boardwalk parking lot to see if there was anything interesting out there. I stopped at one place to get web photos and came across a very-late-in-the-season praying mantis, a pregnant female who was probably looking for somewhere to lay her eggs. It was chilly and wet out there, around 49º, so she didn’t really want to move to do anything, but she posed for me for a little while and climbed up onto the sleeve of my jacket (mostly for the warmth, I think.)
At the preserve itself, there wasn’t a whole lot to see: mostly the little shorebirds and some Northern Pintails and Green-Winged Teals. There were quite a few American Pipits and lots and lots of sparrows. I walked the length of the boardwalk and back and then decided to walk up the road a bit to see if there was anything interesting along the sloughs that run parallel to the road. There were two guys fishing in one of the ponds near the parking lot (which I think is illegal) and I saw something in the water across from them. At first I thought maybe they had snagged their lines on some crud on the bottom of the pond and were dragging it through the water. But when I looked back at their fishing poles, I could see that the lines were “soft” and they had bobbers floating on the surface. So, I looked at the disturbance in the water again, and saw what I thought might have been a snout poking up… But it was gone again before I could see for certain. Then it reappeared further down the length of the pond and into the spot where the pond narrowed into the slough. So I figured since I was walking that way anyway, I’d try to keep an eye out for whatever it was.
After walking about 20 feet, I saw something dark on the opposite side of the slough, so I moved slowly and quietly between the oak trees on my side to see if I could get a better look at whatever it was. And…
It was a river otter!
It was grooming itself and rolling in a patch of high grass it had squished down. It stayed there for about 5 minutes which allowed me to get lots of photos and some video snippets of it before it went back in the water again. Coolness! That made my morning! …And no one else saw it but me, so I feel kind of “privileged”.
I walked around a bit more, and then drove the loop around Bruceville Road once more before heading home. On Bruceville, I saw a pair of Sandhill Cranes grazing in the short grass and got some video of them before leaving the area and getting back on the freeway. Altogether, I was at and around the preserve for about 2½ hours.
Around 7:00 am, I headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; I just wanted to see how far along they were with getting their wetland areas flooded. It’s maybe a little over half of its water capacity right now. Another few weeks and it should be pretty full.
CLICK HEREfor the album of photos and video snippets.
I was surprised, when I got there, to see the gate opened early and the parking lot by the boardwalk almost completely full of cars. LOTS of photographers were out there, some watching the fly in o the Canada and Greater White-Fronted Geese. Another surprise was seeing quite a few Blue-Winged Teals in the pond right by the parking lot. I hardly ever get to see those guys, so it’s always a treat when I do. The males are recognizable by the large, white quarter moon crescent on their face. In the same area were a few Green-Winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, Pintails, and Coots.
I walked along the board walk to the viewing platform. Because the wetland area isn’t completely flooded yet, there wasn’t a lot to see; mostly sparrows and Red-Winged Blackbirds. But I got another surprise when some Sandhill Cranes circled overhead and couple of them landed in one of the fields nearby. They were too far away to get any close-ups, but I was able to get a few pictures of them – and a video snippet of their crackling calls…
I was only there for about 2 ½ hours before heading back home.
At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the wetlands areas aren’t completely flooded yet, so it’s not as full of birds as it could be… but there were a lot of the early-arrival species like the White-Fronted Geese, Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and Gadwalls. I also saw a few different species of sparrow including Song Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Savannah Sparrows, a Dark-Eyed Junco, and a Nutthall’s Woodpecker. Among the other birds I saw – like the Wilson’s Snipes, Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, and American Pipits — a nice surprise was spotting the local Peregrine Falcon who was sitting up in “the eagle-tree”. He was obscured by branches and twigs, but I got a few fair photos of him.
Later on, I came across a trio of mule deer browsing in the tall grass and weeds. One was a male, a two-pointer, and I couldn’t see any details but could tell there was a big lump – like a knot made out of hide — on the side of his head near one of his eyes. It looked like the eye was missing, but I’m not sure; it could have just been that the knot was casting a shadow over the eye socket. It didn’t seem to inhibit the buck or interfere with his ability to move around…
The big surprise of the day, though, was when I saw a skunk moving along the tules and weeds on the edge of one of the wetland ponds, and stopped to take some photos and video of it. As I watched it, I could hear it nattering angrily at something and thought maybe there was another skunk or a snake or something near it in the weeds… When a raccoon climbed out over the vegetation and moved gingerly past the skunk I had to laugh. I wasn’t expecting that at all! You can see the video here: https://youtu.be/yrja6wSMtxA.
I saw another raccoon further along the auto tour route near the large viewing platform. I heard first as it went scuffing through the fallen dried leaves under the platform, and then saw it as it was walking away along the edge of the slough near the base of the platform.
Vacation Day 13. I got up about 5:30 this morning. The hotel bed and pillows were wonderfully comfortable, but I just couldn’t get into a sound sleep, so I cat-napped on and off all night. Still, I was feeling pretty energetic, so I packed up all my stuff and was out of the hotel before 6:00 am. I had some leftover pineapple from yesterday and had that for breakfast – and gave Sgt. Margie one of his small cans of dog food before we left. Then I went back to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (which was about 15 minutes away from the hotel).
I saw a lot today that I saw yesterday, but today I also got my first look at an Eared Grebe in its breeding plumage (which is VERY different than its non-breeding plumage) and I saw some Bullock’s Orioles, but they moved too fast through the trees for me to get any good photos of them. I also saw a Peregrine Falcon and a Bald Eagle. The eagle was perched in a tree, but I couldn’t get close enough to him to get a good photo. I got one shot of him through the windshield but it sucked. Dang it!
Here’s a video of a female Blackbird collecting fibers for her nest: CLICK HERE
Along one part of the auto tour you can see a bare scraggly tree off to the left. Today, I noticed there was a nest on one of the outer branches… and there was a huge Great Horned Owl sitting in it! Cool! I took some photos even though it was pretty distant from the car. I also think I saw the gray-white fluff of an owlet next to the mama. These are the moments when I wish I had a better telephoto lens.
Oh, and I also saw some goslings with their parents, AND the wildly-colored babies of a Pied-Billed Grebe. I’d seen photos of the babies before but had never seen one live. The pictures I got aren’t the best because the birds were moving away from me in the water, but I just loved the pattern on the chicks!
And where there were rabbits all over the place yesterday, today it was California Ground Squirrels. They were out en masse. Some of them are very skittish and shy, but others are bold. There were a couple of them who sat on the ground right outside my car window and posed for me. Hah!
The dog and I were out of the refuge by about 11:00 and headed back to Sacramento, but along the way I stopped to get us some tacos which we ate for lunch at a rest stop. It was a nice couple of days. Now, I need to forage through the 2000+ photos I took! As we were heading home, the clouds were starting to move in… there’s supposed to be rain coming in for tomorrow.
Once home, I relaxed for a bit with the dogs, and then baked up some chicken and biscuits for supper and had them with fresh asparagus.
Vacation Day 12. I had stayed up late Wednesday night to watch “The Night Manager” on AMC (with Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston), and was going to play today by ear, but I woke up around 5:00 am. I was feeling oddly energetic – considering that I’d stayed up until 11:15 pm last night – so I packed an overnight bag, got the dog into the car, and headed off to Willows to spend the day at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I got there around 7:30 am and didn’t leave until 2:30 pm, just driving around the auto tour and walking some of the trails.
Sergeant Margie doesn’t mind the car ride (since he gets extra treats and fancy food for being a good boy in the car), but he’s showing hi age on the walking trails. He can barely keep up with me, and at one point I was seriously considering picking him up and carrying him the rest of the way to the car. He was a trooper, though, and made it back under his own power – if very slowly.
What I didn’t like about the trails was that there were a grillion ticks everywhere. Every time Sergeant Margie stopped to pee, I had to stop and pull about 6 ticks off of his face and ears. I never see that many ticks at any of the other places where I go walking. It was GROSS!
Lots of Jackrabbits and a few Cottontails were scrambling around. For so many critters, I’m surprised I don’t see more babies – especially the jacks. Their babies, called leverets, are born above ground, fully furred, and ready to go within a few hours of birth. (Unlike baby rabbits, called bunnies, that are born underground, almost furless, and unable to see or hear for about 3 weeks.)
The big show of the day, though, was the Killdeer. They’re starting to build their gravel nests and lay their eggs, and I came across several mamas doing their “broken wing act” to try to distract me from where their nests were. They fly a few feet away from the nest, lay on their side on the ground, and flap around as though they’re injured. Once they feel their nest is safe, they jump up, fly off, and then circle around back to the nest to make sure the eggs are okay. One of them had built her stone nest right next to the pull-off area beside a large viewing platform. Almost within reach, but far enough behind a fence to keep law-abiding humans away from her. She didn’t mind when I walked up to the fence, but she wasn’t thrilled with Sergeant Margie. She flew off and rolled on ground, crying, pretending to be wounded… and then didn’t really know what to do when I didn’t fall for her act. She got up, walked off a bit more, fell back on the ground, stood up, walked away, fell over on the ground… As silly as she looked, I had to give her props for her persistence, and for the fact that her walk-and-fall routine circled the area where her nest was so it was always within her sight.
After I put the dog back in the car, she flew back to her nest and its tiny eggs that look like stone. I stepped up onto the viewing platform to get photos of her from another angle, and while I was up there, a male Killdeer came by. The female ran out to him for an on-the-gravel quickie, and then went back to her nest. Hah! Wutta slut!
I also watched a group of Kingbirds cavorting around. Some of what I saw I’m sure was courtship behavior males flying up and down, zig-zagging through the air while they chattered. I think the other behavior I saw was territorial: several bird fighting back and forth between adjacent trees where each had a nest.
I saw four Bitterns during the day (which is the most I’ve ever seen there). Three actually flew across the hiking trail in front of me and disappeared into the grass on the opposite side of it. The fourth one was trying to hide in some tules along the auto tour route, stretching itself up to try to mimic the reeds… but it’s belly was too fat, so it was easy to spot despite its efforts. Hah!
I was hoping to see some Grebes in the permanent wetland area, but they weren’t around today.
I did get to see a lot of other critters, though, including American Avocets, Meadowlarks, Dunlin, Mule Deer, Red-Winged Blackbirds, American White Pelicans, Double-Crested Cormorants, Turkey Vultures, White-Front Geese, Snow Geese and Canada Geese, some Ring-Necked Pheasants, quite a few dragonflies, and more and more and more. Lots of photos… I also caught a glimpse of raccoons in my side mirror, but by the time I maneuvered the car around to get a better shot they were gone. Waah!
As I said, I stayed at the refuge until about 2:30 pm, and by then I was exhausted so I drove another 15 minutes or so into the town of Willows and spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express there.
I don’t know why, really, but the place was full! They only had two rooms left: a large suite and a small first floor room. I certainly didn’t need a suite, so I took the small room… and found it was all ADA compliant with a push-button to open the door after you unlocked it, a low-profile bath tub with a seat in it, and a high-rise toilet. This old woman scored! I had tuna fish and crackers with fruit for supper and then hit the hay.