California Bill\’s Travel \’n Other Stuff

Travels and occassional rantings of an old guy.

Backyard Birding on a Cold Weekend

Great Blue HeronOn this January weekend, we find ourselves with binoculars and bird book in hand, peering through the back windows at our personal Nature Channel.  The lake is a-swarm with birds; flying, swimming, swooping, diving.  People drive hundreds of miles for scenes like this. Amazing.  Though they seem close, even with a 400mm zoom my photo efforts are pathetic.  For a collection, see

It is cold and clear.  24 F is not unheard of here-abouts, but still considered unusual.  It is crystal clear wheEgret on Boatn it is this cold; no inversion layer.  The citrus crop is wiped out. 

The birds?  Oh, yes, the birds.  Well, the action starts about an hour after sunrise, as light comes to the water surface.  The Egrets and Great Blue Herons, permanent residents of the river down below, fly in to hunt along the banks of our lake for breakfast.  Wading in the shallows, or preening at their perch on docks, they are beautiful large birds.  Both Egrets and Herons will stay on our dock, pervaying the buffett below.  An Egret seems to like the top of our boat.  They seem quite aware of our presence as we move about in the house; over the years becoming more comfortable in spite of the movement.  They are skittish though, and crane their long necks in watchful alertness at any noise or movement.  Trying to get close is futile.  The Herons, especially the green Heron, are very hard to film.  My Green Heron pictures are from a resort in Phoenix. 


Of course we have our year-round resident population of mallards, now bastardized by years of in-breeding, but Feeding Melee Takes Flighttoday, on this cold January morning, we are blessed with a variety of migratory friends.  A large flock of cormorants, perhaps 50 or so, low-slung in the water, swim from one end of the lake to the other, as with a purpose.  They frequently dive, sometimes in unison, for food.  This flotilla is accompanied by mergansers.  Flock of Seagulls  (background: a badly out-of-tune punk guitar, please.) swarms above, swooping and diving as the cormorants surface, hoping to steal a meal (Mine! Mine!)  It resembles a wild melee, and several sea gulls will dive on a surfacing cormorant if he should perchance come up with a fish in his mouth.  This flotilla stays discreetly out in the middle of the lake, not too close to either side.  Human movement on either shore speeds them along their way, or sends the entire group into frenzied flight.


The little Ring Necked ducks dive the shallows for weeds. While not numerous, they can get very close to the shore, and I was able to get fairly close to this one, but not for long.Ringed Neck Duck


Perhaps up to 1,000 coots (mud hens for those of you in Rio Linda) move in smaller groups to various lawns, finding this year’s grass to be pleasing to the palate.  We hope a group stays on our yard.  A few years ago this happened, and in the spring our lawn was the greenest it has been in years.  When not on a lakeside lawn, they are diving in the shallows for various weeds.  I think seagulls are not vegetarian, so they leave the weed eating coots alone.  These two allowed me to get close, but a grazing multitude of perhaps 100 flees at the slightest sound or movement.

Coots on Lawn

The seagulls have come here weeks ago, coming down from the mountains, maybe as far away as Mono Lake, on the first storm of the season.  They winter in the lakes and rivers in the foothills, and at twilight they can be seen in large flocks returning to their nesting areas for the night.


The little buffleheads are a particular favorite.  They are so colorful against the dark water. They stay under water for long periods of time, surfacing a surprising distance away from the point of submersion. The buffleheads have been here about a month, and will soon leave and return to central Canada for the summer.  They don’t get very close to the shore.                                                                                                                                                    


Today we think we identified some blue winged teal diving for weeds.  If so, that will be the first time we have seen that breed.  They normally prefer the wooded river bottoms in the foothills and avoid human population.      woodduck003.jpg

This Just In:  Jan 21 first Wood Ducks seen on our Lake.  Outstanding!  Really a thrill.  About 6 or 8 pairs. 


The first of the Common Mergansers appeared a day or so ago.  Today only a few are present.  Within a few days, there will be up to 100 here.  Like the cormorants, they feed for free on our planted fish before continuing on to their summer grounds in western Canada. They are voracious eaters and fly incredibly fast only inches from the water surface.  The large flock makes a distinctive whooshing sound as it speeds past in tight formation about 20 or 30 Common Merganseryards out from the yard. Very fun to watch.  The female’s red head is remindful of Woody Woodpecker.                                                               


We have many other feathered friends here, but enough for now.  This will be a work in progress. We’ve been watching this nature channel for 20 years, it’s about time I recorded some of it.  I know some of the photography isn’t that great, but, hey, this ain’t National Geographic.  You can see many pics at

January 20, 2007 Posted by | Family | Leave a comment