At the Cosumnes River Preserve in southern Sacramento County, Saturday last
was the first River Walk bird survey under the new leadership of Jim Rowoth.
Chris Conard and I attempted to show Jim the route traditionally run, at
least since repeated levee collapses forced abandonment of two legs of the
original trail. We found 92 species. Some of the better finds were at
least 10 blue morph snows among some 2000 white birds, a peregrine falcon,
two soras, a Hutton's vireo (becoming regular now, formerly an occasional
autumn find here), four northern rough-winged swallows, two golden-crowned
kinglets, and three purple finches. Some of the folks joined me in a search
for the ruff near the equipment pad. No luck on that.
On Sunday I did a transect survey at Shaw Forest. This was the first decent
local woodland birding I've had this winter. The transect was mostly a tale
of two halves. The first half was incredibly birdy, with two very nice
flocks. Highlights among the birds were two golden-crowned kinglets, a
brown creeper and, best of all, a Cassin's vireo. Though the second half
was much, much slower, I picked up a couple of fun things. I found a varied
thrush (and two more after the transect was completed) and a Pacific-slope
flycatcher. Just after I wrote down "western flycatcher" and turned to walk
away, the thing called twice, the classic PSFL male position note. This is,
I think, the fourth winter observation of Pacific-slope/western flycatcher
at the preserve. Warbler numbers and variety that morning, and subsequent
mornings, too, were poor. I tried again for the ruff near the equipment
pad. I didn't see it.
Yesterday, I did a transect survey at Orr Forest, like Shaw Forest, a closed
portion of the preserve. This was another slow birding outing in the woods.
But for the second day in a row, I found a Cassin's vireo. This was
definitely a different bird, with a contrasting light ashy gray head. The
Shaw Forest bird had a greenish head. I also heard a varied thrush
yesterday. Both small potatoes compared to what I found coming back to the
ranch headquarters. In a large flock of juncoes, crowned sparrows and a
couple of towhees was a classic male pink-sided junco. I have seen only one
other such beast in the Central Valley, several years ago at Castello
Forest. I made another bootless attempt to find the ruff, too.
This morning I did the shred transect across the equipment pad. This was
more spectacle than birding. In the last week to ten days, the wetlands
managers at the preserve have flooded many more fields north of the Tall
Forest. The response by cranes and larger waterfowl has been prompt and
dramatic. Thousands of snow geese, thousands of greater white-fronted geese
and about 1500 sandhill cranes spend much of the day there. Good numbers of
ducks are there, too, mostly northern pintails, northern shovelers and
green-winged teals. But the duck numbers have not changed that much. They
make a wonderful noise together. But they were not the most impressive
(perhaps depressing in a better term) of flocks today. European starlings
streamed over me for almost 15 minutes, passing on a very broad front. They
were a stupefyingly large assemblage of birds, seemingly moving toward the
vineyards to the south-southeast. Near the tail end of the flock a very
goodly chunk veered southwest, toward I know not what. My guess is the
flock numbered about 2.2 million birds. A much more countable flock of
12,000 came over about half an hour later, much less than the error factor
in the previous guesstimate. I have to go back almost 35 years for a
personal encounter with a bigger flock.
The low this morning at the Accidental Forest was 12 degrees F. This has to
be at or near the lowest temperature I've ever experienced at Cosumnes,
because I've never been there in single digit temperatures. The flooded
fields where the ruff formerly was were solidly frozen.