Posted by: atowhee | February 1, 2008

My snipe hunt and the cyclonic Aix


Photo at Cosumnes Reserve, by David Assman.

The snipe family is adapted for life in dense grasses and marsh foliage.  Note those eyes so near the top of the skull.  It gives them great vertical vision even when they’re looking forward.  Their peripheral vision includes most of heaven, and that’s for survival not religious reasons.  The snipe believe in survival.  And today for the first time I saw one inside the Ashland city limits.

This afternoon was a suitable time for feathered folk.  It was nasty-looking to furless bipeds.  As Bridget and I took our mid-afternoon walk on the Greenway the sky was leaden.  Heavy clouds lay over the mountains, down to 3,000 feet.  The air below that was at least 90% moisture.  Three days of snow had ended with a steady drizzle.  The snow didn’t melt as much as it was eroded.  Every time I leaned forward a rivulet came off the front brim of my hat. The streams were running high and sediment-brown.

As soon as we arrived at the Dog Park blackbirds and sparrows were all around and active.  Even the few cover-loving House Sparrows were evident.  Ground-feeding flocks of Golden-crowned sparrows marched through the grass and weeds around a series of ponds to catch stream overflow.  It was from the first one of these the Wilson’s Snipe took flight at the first sight of Bridget.  He landed in a further pond and scurried into heavy reeds.  He was visible long enough for me to admire that brown back with its yellow stripes.  In profile the flying Snipe is unmistakable, round body with a beak nearly as long as the body itself.  Rapidly whirring wings.  Only a Woodcock would look the same, a bird we don’t have here.

It was the first day this week when the earth was largely free of snow.  Birds were feeding everywhere we looked.  A Wrentit was singing in the rain.  Gene Kelly the Wrentit?  Nah.  Some of the Red-winged Blackbirds were also singing.  Just the disppearance of the snow gave the appearance of spring?

All the overflow ponds were now collecting water.  One had been dry all year and now had dozens of Mallards and a Blue Heron.  The creeks were high and the gravel bar that has hosted dozens of Wood Duck this winter was nearly submerged, about twenty still crowded onto the remnant above the surge. 

As we headed back toward the car a shuffling sound alerted us to a cyclone overhead.  It was a vortex of Aix sponsa.  Wood Ducks in search of some place to roost, their Bear Creek spot now under water.  The circling birds began to spin off into smaller groups but there were at least 200 altogether.  Several fluttered down into the pond next to Mallards and heron.  Others veered off to an upper portion of Bear Creek.  Perhaps the smarter ones plunked down into the warm waters of the Ashland sewage treatment plant.  Many headed up the Ashland Creek Canyon toward the Upper Duck Pond in Lithia Park.  I could check on them tomorrow.

Location:     Bear Valley Greenway–Ashland
Observation date:     1/31/08
Notes:     first Wilson’s Snipe I’ve seen in Ahsland; overflow ponds beginning to fill
Number of species:     19

Wood Duck     200
Mallard     48
Great Blue Heron     1
Wilson’s Snipe     1
Rock Pigeon     3
Mourning Dove     4
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)     2
Western Scrub-Jay     2
American Robin     68
Wrentit     1
European Starling     50
Spotted Towhee     1
Fox Sparrow     1
Song Sparrow     8
White-crowned Sparrow     3
Golden-crowned Sparrow     40
Red-winged Blackbird     15
Brewer’s Blackbird     36
House Sparrow     4

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