My visit to Rush Ranch (see here for hike details) included quite a few bird sightings, notably two new entries to my life list. This post is a short summary of the hike from the birding perspective. Since I was visiting a marsh area, I thought there was a good possibility of bird sightings, but I had some other nice surprises as well.
As soon as I parked near the Visitor Center and got out of my car, I could not help but notice the raucous chorus of blackbird song coming from a large eucalyptus tree next to the parking area. My ears told me there were lots of red-winged blackbirds in the tree, and later when I passed by the parking area between loops in my hike, I saw several individuals that I thought were Brewer’s blackbirds (lacking the red shoulder epaulets).
Near the Visitor Center there were several sparrows feeding on the ground. Some were obviously white-crowned sparrows, with distinctive white crowns and black stripes. A few were similar-but-different: the white was more like buff-colored, and the black stripes were brown. I think these were immature white-crowned sparrows. Here is a clear example.
The west side of the Marsh Trail loop goes along the edge of Suisun Slough. I noticed several ducks swimming along the reeds at the far side of the slough. I zoomed my camera to shoot a few pictures and hoped I would get something good enough for identification purposes. Sure enough – I had two pairs of common golden-eyes swimming along.
Near Goat Island I found a snowy egret feeding by the near shoreline. Although these birds are very common in the San Francisco Bay Area, they are quite elegant and nearly always photogenic. In this picture the black bill, yellow patches in front of the eyes (lores), black legs, and yellow feet are all evident.
Continuing along the levee trail, I encountered several small groups of sparrows, again feeding on the ground. These included a golden-crowned sparrow; my picture is fuzzy but still clearly shows the black head stripes and a bit of golden on the crown. There was also a black phoebe that alternately flew about catching insects and briefly perched on the top wire of a barbed wire fence.
Shortly after I saw the phoebe I saw more sparrows feeding on the trail. As I carefully walked closer they would run ahead, then fly several yards away, land again, and repeat. At one point there were 3 sparrows perched on the barbed wire fence and I got a couple of pictures. This one suggests that there were, apparently, two savannah sparrows and an immature white-crowned sparrow. I spent quite a bit of time trying after the fact to confirm the savannah sparrow identification; the key characteristics are the streaks on the breast, dull yellow near the eye, and shorter tail.
Near the beginning of the South Pasture Trail loop I saw a light-colored hawk-like bird perched on a fence post a few tens of yards ahead of me. As I slowly approached it flew to the next fence post and perched again. I started taking pictures, carefully making my way forward, until it again flew to the next fence post. I took some more pictures and decided that was as close as I was going to get. I’m not familiar with birds of prey, so this was another after-the-fact identification: a white-tailed kite. Usually birds of prey are observed flying, so I feel lucky that I was able to get pictures of this one in a stationary position. It definitely seemed to be checking me out, so it would know when it was time to retreat to a safer distance. This was a new entry for my life list.
Later, as I was driving out of the preserve, I noticed a bird near the side of the road perched on a fence post. I was sure that if I got out of my car it would fly away before I could take any pictures, so I stopped my car and just shot through the windshield. Like other birds I’d seen earlier in the day, I took pictures and tried to get closer, but the bird then flew to the next fence post. During my after-the-fact identification, I had some difficulty figuring out which general type of bird to check out. For some reason a little voice in my head said it was a shrike, so I tried that – and bingo! It is a loggerhead shrike, another new entry for my life list, but common in the Suisun Marsh area. (There is a nice local bird list that I’d picked up at the Visitor Center.)
I wonder what I’ll see when I return another time to hike the Suisun Hill Trail?