Monday, March 12, 2018

The Last Days of Winter in the Great Valley (and a Bald Eagle)

We spent part of the weekend out at the coast, but coming home in Bay Area traffic was no fun. As we approached the Great Valley, we decided to get off the main highway and check out things at the Beckwith Road Viewing Platform, part of the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge. At times during the winter season, tens of thousands of Aleutian Cackling Geese, White-fronted Geese, Snow Geese, and Ross's Geese will congregate in the fields around the platform. But winter is almost over and the huge flocks are beginning to disappear as they begin their northward migration.

We saw just a few dozen White-fronted Geese near the platform, and saw or heard little else. If the geese were there, they were well hidden. We spent some time enjoying the rabbits at the thicket around the platform and searched for Towhees and sparrows. We were finally ready to go, so we started driving slowly east along the northern boundary of the refuge.
Photo by Mrs. Geotripper

Then we heard a lot of goose noise, and stopped again to try and see why. It didn't take long to find out why...there was a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) lurking at the edge of the pasture. I don't know if they prey on the geese, but their agitation certainly made it seem so. It turned out that there were still a few hundred Snow Geese hiding out in the distant shrubs.
I've seen a number of Bald Eagles in the last few years, but most of them have been in the Pacific Northwest. They are resident in the local region, but not overly common. I've only seen one at this spot in the past, in 2015 (see the pictures here). A check of eBird indicates a sighting of two eagles in November of 2017, but no other reports since 2016.
Bald Eagles are big birds. Really big. Cows were strolling in front of the eagle, providing a sense of scale. Their wingspan can exceed six feet, which became apparent when it took off, again in front of the cow.
It was a great ending to our weekend!

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