On a chilly and rainy Friday, Sarah & I headed east to the Central Valley to see what was a’wing at Cosumnes River Reserve and the Isenberg Crane Reserve, two locations I’ve heard much about, but had not previously birded. The year’s end approaching, I wanted to add a few Central Valley specialties to my 2007 list. Eagles of both the Bald and Golden variety, Cranes, Swans, and several Geese occur in this area that rarely, if ever, are found in the immediate SF Bay Area.
We arrived at the Cosumnes River Reserve at 11’ish to find the visitor’s center closed (they don’t have regular hours on weekdays). No matter – we eyed the map board and headed out under heavy, but dry, skies. Right on cue a pair of Sandhill Cranes, followed by 2 Tundra Swans, flew high overhead. We didn’t get very good looks at them, and hoped to get a better view later in the day.
Unlike many of the other wildlife preserves that grace the Central Valley, which are mostly driving loops with very short walking options, Cosumnes has a decent network of foot trails. Between the River and Boardwalk trails, you can walk about 4 miles, which we did.
It was chilly (~40F) and pretty quiet to start, with assorted ducks, mostly Northern Pintails with a pair of Cinnamon Teal and a Green-winged Teal, in a pond by the trail. A great many Red-tailed Hawks were perched on fenceposts, power poles, treetops, etc. A Belted Kingfisher treated us to some extended viewing as it hovered above a pond, then flew off toward the river, rattling as it went.
The trail went atop a levee with flooded ponds on the left, and a wooded creek on the right. Although this seemed like prime Wood Duck territory, we saw none, alas. A flitting brown shape in the brush caught my eye. Hmm, wren-like upturned tail, slightly decurved bill, plain back, no eye stripe. Consulting my field guide, it must be a House Wren (LIFER!)!
We met a nice fellow birder who gave us some good tips for other nearby areas, and watched a flock of American Goldfinches and Dark-eyed Juncoes flit about. A Downy Woodpecker foraged in the distance as well, affording but a brief look.
Although the birding was solid, the photo ops were not, as the heavy overcast and distant birds made for tough photographing. Thankfully the threatening skies remained just that, and we stayed dry.
Flocks of hundreds of Greater White-fronted Geese flew overhead in V’s, flushed by nearby hunting (not allowed in the preserve, but permitted in adjacent lands). We finished up the River Walk, now back the the (still closed) visitor’s center, and continued on the 1-mile Boardwalk Trail.
Cackling Goose and Northern Pintails
On a small island I spied a Canada Goose that looked awfully small – further examination showed a neck ring and as it was only a little larger than the surrounding Pintails, I happily concluded it was my first definite sighting of a Cackling Goose (LIFER!). This former subspecies of the Canada Goose looks very similar, and some of its subspecies can be very difficult to tell apart from some of the smaller Canada Goose subspecies – for reasons only known to themselves, when the ABA split Canada and Cackling Geese into separate species, they did so in a way that left much overlap between the largest Cackling Goose subspecies and the smallest Canada Goose subspecies. This specimen, however, was of the very-small variety, and there was no confusion.
A dark brown shape in the trees attracted my attention, and after a bit of watching, I was treated to some good looks at a Bewick’s Wren, a bird I’d seen for the first time just a month or so ago, but this time I was able to get a couple of mediocre photos of it.
Again, raptors were legion, with Red-tailed Hawks dominating, although we also saw a Northern Harrier and a couple of Accipiter sp. A Belted Kingfisher sang his rattling song, flying from pond to pond. We crossed the entrance road and entered a plain of flooded ponds connected by trails and boardwalks.
Wilson’s Snipe (I think)
The birds here were otherwise mostly the same as we’d seen on the River walk, with the addition of some Black-necked Stilts and Dowitcher sp. shorebirds. As we neared the car I spotted a sleeping shorebird that looked different. I looked at it for a while, hoping it would un-tuck its bill to facilitate identification, but no such luck, so I took a couple of photos and we warmed up and ate lunch in the car. Buckeye, on Flickr’s ID Please group, suggested the bird is a Wilson’s Snipe, and I’m inclined to agree.
After lunch we drove around some of the farm roads by the reserve, as suggested by the birder we’d talked to earlier. His suggestion was a good one, and got very close looks at a beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk along with many more Red-tailed Hawks and a couple of hunting White-tailed Kites.
Circling back past the reserve, we continued south to Woodbridge Road, site of the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve. Pulling into the parking lot we saw no birds at all other than Coots and Mallards, and after gearing up and walking to what looked like a trailhead, we realized that there is no walking at all to be done at this reserve – it’s a paved pullout in the road and that’s it!
We decided to drive west on Woodbridge to see if the fields there had anything, and this turned out to be a very good idea, as we soon saw Tundra Swans, perhaps 20 of them, in a flooded field.
Continuing west we started to see good numbers of Sandhill Cranes – yay! A flock of 50 or so congregated near the end of the road, and we saw many more on the drive back, some pretty close-up. These were much more satisfying views than my previous looks had been a couple of years ago, when we had 5 minutes of distant, back-lit viewing across a field!
Sandhill Cranes landing
The cranes are gangly creatures, especially when landing, and we enjoyed watching them for a while. We saw a couple of other cars which, judging by their glacial pace, were also full of birders enjoying the cranes.
After we’d had our fill, we headed home. This was a great outing, and the trails at Cosumnes were quite enjoyable, even though it was cold and stormy. I was happy to add 2 life birds and 3 year birds on this, my last birding trip of 2007.
Observation date: 12/28/07 Number of species: 52 + Greater White-fronted Goose - Anser albifrons 1000 * Cackling Goose - Branta hutchinsii 1 Canada Goose - Branta canadensis 25 + Tundra Swan - Cygnus columbianus 100 American Wigeon - Anas americana 10 Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos 50 Cinnamon Teal - Anas cyanoptera 5 Northern Shoveler - Anas clypeata 500 Northern Pintail - Anas acuta 1000 Green-winged Teal - Anas crecca 40 Canvasback - Aythya valisineria 2 Bufflehead - Bucephala albeola 7 Common Goldeneye - Bucephala clangula 3 Ruddy Duck - Oxyura jamaicensis 6 Pied-billed Grebe - Podilymbus podiceps 10 Double-crested Cormorant - Phalacrocorax auritus 5 Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias 2 Great Egret - Ardea alba 40 Snowy Egret - Egretta thula 5 Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura 25 White-tailed Kite - Elanus leucurus 5 Northern Harrier - Circus cyaneus 2 Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii 1 Accipiter sp. - Accipiter sp. 2 Red-shouldered Hawk - Buteo lineatus 3 Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis 50 American Kestrel - Falco sparverius 20 American Coot - Fulica americana 150 + Sandhill Crane - Grus canadensis 200 Killdeer - Charadrius vociferus 10 Black-necked Stilt - Himantopus mexicanus 20 Long-billed Dowitcher - Limnodromus scolopaceus 20 Wilson's Snipe - Gallinago delicata 1 California Gull - Larus californicus 5 Mourning Dove - Zenaida macroura 5 Belted Kingfisher - Megaceryle alcyon 3 Downy Woodpecker - Picoides pubescens 1 Black Phoebe - Sayornis nigricans 5 Western Scrub-Jay - Aphelocoma californica 2 American Crow - Corvus brachyrhynchos 10 Common Raven - Corvus corax 5 Tree Swallow - Tachycineta bicolor 10 Bewick's Wren - Thryomanes bewickii 1 * House Wren - Troglodytes aedon 1 Northern Mockingbird - Mimus polyglottos 2 European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris 5 Song Sparrow - Melospiza melodia 3 White-crowned Sparrow - Zonotrichia leucophrys 40 Dark-eyed Junco - Junco hyemalis 30 Red-winged Blackbird - Agelaius phoeniceus 20 House Finch - Carpodacus mexicanus 10 American Goldfinch - Carduelis tristis 30 This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org) * = life bird, + = year bird