January 14, 2023 Bird Walk to Sandstone Ranch with Aron Smolley

January 16, 2023

Saturday, January 14th Bird Walk: Sandstone Ranch with Aron Smolley

Kicking off 2023 with our first bird walk of the year, we returned to Sandstone Ranch and its variable habitats to boost our year list with some diversity. Although our target bird- the northern shrike- and several of the expected species, such as American tree sparrow and belted kingfisher, eluded us today, there was some interesting bird activity, and a great time was had by all.

Ferruginous Hawk chasing immature Bald Eagle. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Canada and cackling geese were numerous as we made our way from the parking lot towards the riparian area. A ball of horned larks swooped and swirled around the hills to our left and a downy woodpecker flew overhead. A pair of American kestrels caught our attention with their high-pitched calls, and everyone was able to view them through our Zeiss spotting scope. A great blue heron flew by while blue jays and mourning doves flitted about the trees over the creek. As soon as we crossed the first bridge, we had a burst of action from two immature bald eagles and a ferruginous hawk all chasing each other. From the smell we assumed there must have been an animal carcass nearby- soon after we discovered a deceased goose on the island in the river. We spent some time scanning for water birds and had one common goldeneye and one common merganser among the ubiquitous mallards and Canada geese.

Northern Harrier eating a goose carcass. Photo by Jamie Simo.

The highlight of today by far was the female northern harrier that gave me my closest view of this bird to date! She flew directly in front of us, low and slow and in perfect lighting. The cherry on top was that she descended upon the dead goose, and everyone got to witness the graphic spectacle of her feeding upon it. HPAI concerns aside, this was quite fascinating to observe through a high-powered scope. It’s not every day you get to see a northern harrier perched on the ground, much less eating prey.

From that spot we also had quite a few other raptors; mostly immature bald eagles (at one point we had seven individuals in one field of view!) as well as several red-tailed hawks, all very different plumages. A couple of white-tailed deer made their presence known as we started heading back to the parking lot. We stopped a few more times for western meadowlarks, song and white-crowned sparrow, and a gigantic adult bald eagle flyover. Final species for the day was a gang of wild turkeys that followed us out and prompted a hilarious conversation about collective nouns for animals. All in all, another successful bird walk. Happy new year everyone and happy birding!

Bird List:

Canada goose: ~200

Cackling goose: ~50


Common goldeneye: 1

Common merganser: 1

Great blue heron: 1

Downy woodpecker: 1 

Northern flicker: 1

American kestrel: 2

Mourning dove: 5

Rock pigeon: 6

Blue jay: 8

Bald eagle: 8

Ferruginous hawk: 1

Red tailed hawk: 4

Northern harrier: 2

American crow:10

Wild turkey: 7

Horned lark: ~20

Song sparrow: 2

White crowned sparrow: 5

American goldfinch: 1


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