Saturday, November 27, 2010

Photo Story from the Cosumnes River Preserve - Wonderful Wild Waterfowl.

Come and join us on a trip back in time! It's an adventure to a land where the forces of nature run wild and animals teem in their natural environment. We're going to the Cosumnes River Preserve in the central valley of California because it is the last free flowing river that drains down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Sacramento delta below. That means good things can happen there!

The trail beckons us. Let's go!

We walked along a trail that parallels a slough leading to the main channel of the Cosumnes River (map below).

The lands adjacent to the Cosumnes River are annually flooded by water that over tops the banks of the river. Before seasonal storm flows fill the river, the preserve management floods the ponds for the incoming migratory birds.

This wetland dominated by emergent marsh supports thick bands of cattails and bulrush as well as floating aquatic vegetation. This picture was taken at the eastern jog in the trail where the bluish-black signature for water occurs on the map (above).

Willow clusters line the river banks providing a constant backdrop to remind us of the big river that lies on just on the other side (south).

Back in the mid 1990's, I worked at this preserve as a volunteer and led visitors on interpretive tours of this trail. Describing habitats, naming plant species, and calling out waterfowl: my goal was to give folks a little idea of what the preserve contained in a digestible form to the "non-botanist."

There were many changes at the Cosumnes River Preserve since the last time I visited. Some very good, some not so good in my humble opinion. I guess you can call me a grumpy old lady who does not like change... (after all I am going to be 40 at my next birthday so I am entitled.)

This photo below shows the northern portion of one of the main walking trails. This pathway was dirt last time I saw it. What a surprise for me to see a paved walking path instead of the friendly old earthen trail. It made me a little bit sad.

But those trees to the left of Wyatt were not taller then four feet high (his height) the last time I saw them. The valley oak trees amazing growth over 13 years is wonderfully staggering. Restoration works.

On our visit, seeing the local fauna up close was easy on this trail. Apparently the high amount of foot traffic has desensitized the juvenile black-tailed jack rabbits and this one lay in the middle of the trail unaffected by our presence. My first thought was that he was ill, but his litter mates were only a foot away from him in the near by bushes. I got down to take his picture and check him out. Finally it showed a touch of concern and sat up while thinking about leaving . . . for a moment. Then it relaxed again to sun it's self.

Further on I saw the familiar indentations from beaver slides on the bank of the slough channel. There was raccoon scat at the top of this trail and many footprints from the different creatures that use the animal pathway. I guess you could call this the local animal highway.

With fall coming quickly the grape leaves were changing color and the golden leaves against the dark bark of the willow trees was beautiful to see. Gracefully arching and twining vines were noticeable through out the riparian canopy and I made sure to show the kids several times so they could identify these leaves by themselves.

Upon reaching the railroad bridge over the Cosumnes River, my kids were heard squeaking about being a little tired. "How can you be tired?" I asked. "There is so much to see!"

We had walked for about 45 minutes in reaching the river's edge at a very slow ramble, but apparently it took it's toll on my kids. I was just getting warmed up and wanted to extend our walk, but we sadly had to start back.

On turning back I studied the causeway spanned by the raised railway line. When the river breaches the natural levee it flows beneath the tracks in this location. Further to the north (further from the river) there is a raised earthen railroad levee which keeps the train out of the drink (flood zone).

As the intrepid leader of our expedition, I navigated my little troupe back to the observation areas where most of the waterfowl hangs out. A rather grand assemblage of ducks were loafing in the ponds including pintail, shovelers, gadwall, and cinnamon and green-winged teal.

Acres of rice and other agricultural fields are flooded during the winter for the incoming waterfowl. Several thousand ducks were in town for the convention. It was a colorful crew of birds and I showed the kids the different species.

This graceful pair of pintails were lovely.

While we spied on the loafing waterfowl, other species like the white fronted geese flew over head. They just seem move from pond to pond as they see fit.

And then of course the American coots were present in mass. They often crowded the edges of the ponds and scurried like rats when we got too close. Ubiquitous and pervasive, no trip to a wildlife preserve would be complete with out them.

A few shore birds were meandering around the edges of the flooded fields too. This greater yellow-legs was just minding his own business. An insect here, an insect there, what else is a bird to do except earn his living.

And lastly the main reason we drove two hours from home . . . sand hill cranes. Bugling, blaring, social, gregarious, happy looking, amazingly graceful, these tall gray birds are one of my absolute favorites. Flying across the sky they are large and looming and remind me of prehistoric times.

When I lived in Sacramento, my house was within a 1/4 mile from the Sacramento causeway, a north-south flyway where the waterfowl travel up and down the state. Hearing the call of the cranes as they flew down the causway in the middle of September was music to my ears and I new that winter was well on it's way.

There are two kinds of sand hill crane who overwinter at the Cosumnes River Preserve: the lesser sand hill crane and the greater sand hill crane. What's the difference between the two species? Size obviously. Greater sand hill cranes are about 10 percent larger than their cousins the lesser sand hill cranes. Honestly, from afar I have no idea how to tell the difference.

I just love to watch their careful grazing and see them congregate showing their peaceful ways.

Unlike some people I know who are less peaceful on most occasions....

But that is the way of little humans: bouncing, raucous, obnoxious, loud. Luckily, I think they absorbed the experience of this particular slice of nature and they stored some tidbits of information in their brain for future use...

Upon quizzing my daughter Ella, I discovered that she could tell me with certainty the name of the big gray bird with the red head without any hesitation when I showed her a picture. And that was enough for me.

If you ever get to the central valley of California, a trip to this preserve should be high on you list. You will not be disappointed.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Guess the Mystery Bird, Sandpiles are Awesome, Jr. D gets Aggressive, Bingo is Bored, and the Hummingbirds are Hyper.

Welcome to the mixed salad of my bloggy pictorial for this week. A little of this, a little of that, for a taste of everything light and mostly fresh.

First I have a little soft calling bird. It's no mystery for me but a challenge for some of you birdy folks out there. This is the female of the species and more subtly colored in comparison to the gaudy males. Or rather brilliantly colored males . . . I predict Joan should know this lady without pause. For the rest of you just look to the end of the post for the answer.

I asked Mike to bring home some sand for our "sand pile" and we got the sand mountain which is only to be expected. This is basically 25 tons of sand, an end dump full, which Daddy Mike brought home for the kids.

The kids really don't like sand very much. They hardly play in it at all . . .

And they never get sand all over their clothes and in their socks and they never bring in shoe loads of sand in the house and never make me yell and scream about their mess. Nope. That never happens.

Wyatt says, "Mom, how could I possibly bring sand in the house? I'm not wearing any shoes or socks. Duh!"

Every child should have a sand pile, no mater how small. Just some little plot of earth covered with sand where they can dig with shovels, wiggle their toes, and get grits under their finger nails.

Now on to "The Chickens." I'm not showing the ladies. They are up to their usual behavior of pecking each other. I've given up on beautiful chickens. BUT Jr. D is taking after his old man and is constantly jumping the fencing around the coop. He likes to perch dominantly on the gate and scream at us in the morning. He's a real charmer.

Additionally, he is beginning to show some aggressive tenancies which are not unlike his father. The added bonus is that he is bigger than his dad. I can't wait to see how his spurs grow in. Maybe he will be meaner than pop. We can only hope.

Smaller more polite hummingbirds have been frequenting our Mexican sage and dominating the mulberry tree next to my house. These little gems flash their colors with the same territorial aggression that the rooster shows, but he's just so small he can't do the same kind of damage. And he knows it. So he keeps his distance from us humans.

But I still captured his attitude and lovely colors.

Bingo the Mighty Adventurer has been on the prowl, meandering across the property in search of something to do. He's been on the job. He knows he has an obligation to provide me with optimal photographic opportunities. He knows I need material for future Bingo books. He knows he can't survive on just rodent meat alone.

But even with his jaded, movie star, super model attitude, he will obligingly and patiently let me take his picture. For the one millionth time . . .

Are those water droplets on Bingo's tongue? Or is it spray? Or just glistening? I could not figure out what that shine was... Even zoomed.

And lastly, the horses have not been forgotten or ignored. They've been doing their jobs. They look nice standing in their fields, they roll in their own manure, they eat lots of hay. It's a rough life.

Their paycheck comes from their real job which I can attest amounts to approximately 2 hrs per week. They seem happy to comply (well for the most part) with being ridden only twice a week. I think they have a pretty good gig.

Once again I am at the tail end of my post with little substantial depth of material to present. But I'm here, and have documented a fragment of our existence on the planet.

p.s. The mystery bird is a female western bluebird.

The End.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Where the Heck Have I Been? I Really Don't Know Any More . . .

October? What happened to October? I can not explain October.

A thick gray fog has clouded over my brain and there is a vague memory of a pink taffeta-adorned ballerina superhero and a brown duster-cowboy hat wearing Wyatt Earp. We traipsed through a nearby neighborhood since no one trick-or-treats on our street (It's just not possible).

I could not believe my ears when I heard the complaint, "My bucket is too heavy!" after 45 minutes, thus I know it was a dream. So much for Halloween. And October. . .

After clearing my head I thought about doing some photography to align my brain cells to their proper orientation. They needed straightening and organization. Maybe the linear configuration of the vineyards would do the trick. Their soft lines with muted colors contrasting with the soldier-like presentation was calling me to attention.

Ella and I made a morning visit to the vineyards across the street as the sun lazily stretched upward through the weak marine layer that covered our valley. The dramatic changes in the vineyard colors were lovely enough that a three-year old was in awe of the botanical presentation, seemingly wrapped just for us.

Crisp golds and burning purples chased the dangling vines, warning of the impending leaf loss and winter. Demonstrating survival strategies at their finest, deciduous plants know it is time to go bald for the winter.

The bald hill in the background called Lion's Peak provided a constant silhouette which captured my attention. It was a game for me to see how many angles I could find of this local landmark while featuring the changing of the vines. (I've not hiked all the way to the top of Lion's Peak and it's on my short list to conquer.)

Then there were grapes! A tremendous amount all still on the vine! Why?

Shouldn't they all have been picked by now?? I guess these were left for the birds? I thought about all the water used to make grape vines grow and the amount of mature grapes left on the vines and was puzzled. I guess I should have found some staff at the winery to answer my queries.

Ella asked, "Can I try one?"
I replied, "Yep. Go ahead and have a grape."

"Why aren't they big grapes, Mom?" The little thoughtful questioner asked.
"Well, these are wine grapes, Ella. Table grapes are big," I simply explained.

Then Lion's Peak roared softly again. It had to be pictured once more with a foreground of organized vineyard. The steeply sloping hills surrounding this winery were sparred from deforestation. The oak woodlands are all protected as wildlife habitat within a conservation easement. That's a good thing.

My attempt to capture the arching rolls over the low hills were not entirely fruitful. Maybe the hills were not dramatic enough to get the "look" I was trying to "picture."

Taking pictures was a fine excuse to stand on the roof of my truck and leave muddy foot prints up there for the rain to wash away. It was an excuse for my side kick to play in the truck bed and ask any and all questions without interruption. Best of all it was a reason to meander through the vine rows with my not so baby-girl, lady-girl, daughter-girl on a quiet Thursday morning. We were walking along slowly, my big Mommy hand holding a littler Ella hand, strolling through the vines. I can remember my leather clogs sucking in droplets of water and her shiny black patent boots collecting dew and shedding it off. The sound of a peregrine falcon screeching . . .

All this before the crush of the real day was a great comfort. To spend just a few quite minutes with a little girl who is growing so quickly . . .

Moments. Gather them one at a time.

The Day the Swallows Came Home

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