Tag Archives: Sandhill Crane

Naturalists at the Conaway Ranch, 03-10-19

I headed out to Woodland around 8:30 am to help my co-worker Bill with his recon outing at Conaway Ranch.  He has about twenty outings slated for that venue over the next months or two; he takes school children out there to tell them about food chains, rice growing and harvesting, wildlife, etc. There’s a slough that runs through one part of the property and it acts like a mini-riparian habitat that attracts otters, opossums, birds, snakes and small critters.  Today, he just really wanted to look at the state of the property after all of the rains and see what there was around to tell the kids about.

I was expecting some of our current naturalist students to join Bill out there, but instead, we had four of our former students (now certified naturalists themselves) come out –Susan Sallocks, Barbara Meierhenry, Bob Ream and Donna Moyer – all offering to help Bill with his future outings. All of them greeted me, some hugged me or wished me well in my ongoing fight against The Children of Wilson, and a couple of them said how much they had enjoyed the naturalist class and how I’d changed their lives for the better… It was all so unexpected and lovely, it almost made me cry. What a sweet way to begin our day.

We spent about three hours walking along the slough, checking out tracks, trying to identify the birds around and in the air overhead, looking at the different plant species starting to emerge everywhere.

The first thing I saw when I got to the spot was a medium sized garter snake curled up along the side of the road. It was limp and cold, and it wasn’t moving. But I couldn’t tell if it was truly dead or just in a deep torpor because it was so cold outside (in the high 40’s).  Its eyes were still clear, it didn’t look like any part of it had been run over by a car, and it was limp, not stiff with rigor mortis. I took some photos of it and then put it back down the way I’d found it. At the end of our walk, it was still there, so I guess it was dead. It’ll make a good meal for some critter.

Bill showed us some of the props he uses for the outings with the kids including one about the water cycle and how rice grows. Very cool and informative. We didn’t see any live crayfish, but we did find several skeletons and their mud chimneys in the burned rice field.

There was a team from the University out on the property checking on and upgrading the solar-powered electronic boxes on the Wood Duck boxes they have lined up along the slough. They stopped to talk with us for a little bit and then went on ahead of us.

As far as wildlife went, we didn’t see a whole lot, but did get to see crows, bullfrogs and Pacific Tree frogs, flocks of Greater White-Fronted Geese and Sandhill Cranes flying overhead, some Marsh Wrens, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, a Say’s Phoebe, and a Great-Horned Owl.  We heard a Belted Kingfisher but couldn’t see it. As the weather warms up, there will be a lot more to see there.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

The naturalist graduates were intrigued with the property and said they were hoping to be able to come out to the ranch to help Bill with his group outings throughout the coming months.

Species List:

1. Ant, Velvety Tree Ant, Liometopum occidentale
2. Asian Clam, Freshwater Clam, Corbicula fluminea
3. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
4. Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia
5. Broad-Leaf Lupine, Lupinus latifolius
6. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus
7. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
8. Fava Beans, Vicia faba
9. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
10. Great-Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
11. Himalayan blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
12. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
13. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
14. Pacific Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla
15. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
16. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
17. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
18. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
19. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
20. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
21. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
22. Tule Pea, Lathyrus jepsonii
23. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
24. Valley Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi
25. Western Pond Turtle, Pacific Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata
26. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
27. Yellow Star-Thistle, Centaurea solstitialis

The Cows Were More Obvious Today, 10-20-18

I had decided to just rest up over this weekend, but I couldn’t resist heading out to the Cosumnes River Preserve in the early morning. The preserve had posted that 90% of their wetland areas had water in them, so I wanted to see what it was like out there.

Uh. If what I saw out there was indeed 90%, then there are huge areas that the public can never see. The slough and some of the rice fields adjacent to the preserve were full of water, but there was no water in the wetland areas around the boardwalk or Desmond Road (which is where the public is allowed to do viewing). So, I was super disappointed as I felt the public had been lied to by the preserve.  Apparently, quite a few other people had also been duped by the announcement; there were cars cruising up and down Desmond and Bruceville Roads looking for birds.

The lack of water also meant a distinct lack of wildlife viewing. I did get to see COWS in some of the fields, and some Sandhill Cranes in other fields (but too far away for my camera to get any good shots of them). *Sigh* There was one Red-Tailed Hawk that was hunting near the boardwalk area and sat on the top of a short tree, so she could see what was around her. I saw her go to ground at one point, but don’t think she caught anything. The only other birds I saw were the common Canada Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, Mallards, Brewer’s and Red-Winged Blackbirds, and some Bushtits and White-Crowned Sparrows. Nothing special.

I saw a few tiny damselflies that I think were Paiute Dancers, and also came across two large praying mantises, gravid females looking like they were ready to lay their eggs.

But overall, I felt the trip was a bust.

Disappointing at the Cosumnes Preserve, 10-08-18

DAY 3 OF MY VACATION.  I left the house around 7:00 am to go to the Cosumnes River Preserve to see what it’s looking like these days.  It was about 59º when I got to the preserve; by the late afternoon it was about 80º.

I knew the Sandhill Cranes were starting to move into the area, and I wanted to see if the preserve had water in it yet to support them. Nope. The slough along the side of the road was full, but there was no water in the wetland area yet.  Several flocks of cranes flew over the area, but none of them landed (because of the lack of water). I only got a handful of shots of other birds like Red-Winged Blackbirds, a Song Sparrow and a White-Crowned Sparrow.  On the way home, I spotted two White Tailed Kites sitting in a tree in an empty field. I stopped to get photos of them, but they were too far away for my camera to focus on them correctly.

I also saw a dark animal moving along the slough at a distance and thought maybe it might be a mink or an otter… but it turned out to be nothing but a tortoiseshell cat searching for mice and voles in the grass.

It was kind of a frustrating morning; not a lot to see or photograph. But the air was fresh and cool, and the temperature was comfortable, so it wasn’t a total waste. I only walked for about 2 hours, though, before heading home again.

CLICK HERE to see the puny album of photos.

A Thanksgiving River Otter, 11-23-17

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…

SCORE!

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.

The Water is Filling in at the Cosumnes Preserve, 11-12-17

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 HERE for 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.