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.


Sharkbytes (TM) said...

Thanks for the wonderful tour! I'm not so good with waterfowl, but slowly learn a few. Those white-fronted geese are interesting.

San-Dee said...

Wow, hasn't Ella's hair gotten long! and it seems Wyatt's's got to be the fresh air and fun excursions. Did you see any egrets? I think they are my favorite ever since we watched adults teaching the babies to fly in a field on route 102.

Love your photos, Julia!

Captain Dumbass said...

They're tired because they never stop running around. Looked like a nice trip though.

Doris Sturm said...

That was very enjoyable, Julia, and thought provoking as well. I too tend to be very skeptical of change - event though it's going to happen whether we like it or not, but most man-induced change (I'm sorry to say) is not in the best interest of the environment, including the asphalt roads that suffocate our earth and promote global warming.

Last night I had to stop what I was doing because the overhead migrating birds made such a racket, but I was unable to see what kind of birds (I'm very near sighted) but I just assumed they were geese, which they probably were not. We have a lot of white egrets, so maybe that was them...but I see them down by the lake. After all this is the South, so where would they migrate to? Florida? LOL

Thanks for the outing and I'm sure your children will recall those moments - but it may take 20 years or so for them to appreciate it ;-)

With love for a wonderful holiday season, Julia! Good luck with your tree...can't wait to see what your decision will be.

Frogs in my formula said...

Ahhhh, I love all the colors. You can smell the outdoors. Here in CT we have slipped into the gray-brown stage of winter. Trees are naked. So nice to come to your blog for some sunshine and bird tales.

DayPhoto said...

What a wonderful tour...I loved this photo adventure. You children are just delightful I could hear thier laughter clear over here in Colorado.


Julie Harward said...

I loved this walk...a gorgeous trail, I would so love to go along there for a walk. We have about 75 sand hill cranes across the road from me, they come to eat the farmers grain and there is a river there too. Thanks for sharing it all :D

theUngourmet said...

What a magical place! I would be a bit sad over the paving as well. That's too bad. The jack rabbit reminded me of summers spent at my grandparents home in Redding. Thanks for taking us along on your hike. Great pics!

Debbie said...

Incredible photos! I love places like that. I bet your kids had a ball.

Lisa said...

Great pictures!

Mel said...

Hey- I've been there!
Great photos as always and a little more insight into the place!

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