Readers’ wildlife photos

February 10, 2023 • 8:15 am

I’m not feeling well today (sore throat and sniffles, but not covid, for I tested twice), so posting may be light. Bear with me, as I do my best.

Today’s photos of grassland birds come from UC Davis ecologist Susan Harrison. Her notes and IDs are indented, and click on the photos to enlarge them.

Grassland Birds

South of Davis near the western edge of the Sacramento River Delta, orchards and field crops give way to cattle and sheep pastures, interspersed by the occasional wildlife refuge or bird-hunting club.  These pastures are flat expanses of mostly non-native grasses, bordered by weedy ditches and dotted with a few oaks and Eucalyptus.Distant mountains provide the only dramatic scenery.

This land used to look very different.  In an iconic and heartbreaking essay, John Muir described what he saw in 1869: “The Great Central Plain of California, during the months of March, April, and May, was one smooth, continuous bed of honey-bloom, so marvelously rich that, in walking from one end of it to the other, a distance of more than 400 miles, your foot would press about a hundred flowers at every step…”  By 1894 when he wrote this, the vast wildflower meadows had mostly been converted to agriculture.

Today just a few tiny patches of meadow remain that were never drained, plowed, or heavily grazed by livestock. Here is one such place near Davis, a field of Flat-faced Calicoflowers (Downingia pulchella):

But as ecologically altered as the region’s livestock pastures are today, they still provide a home for grassland birds. The pictures below were taken along farm roads in Solano County. Some of these species are considered to be scarce or declining grassland specialists (Burrowing Owl, Loggerhead Shrike, Grasshopper Sparrow, Horned Lark).

First, some raptors:

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) eating an Alligator Lizard (Elgaria species):

Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) likely waiting for a California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi) to pop up:

White-Tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus):

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia):

Next, a predatory songbird that is almost a raptor:

Loggerhead Shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus):

Some other habitual fence-sitters:

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta):

Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum, left) and Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis, right):

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) with sheep (Ovis aries), barn, and wind farm:

And finally, some birds most often seen on the ground:

Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris):

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus):

Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens) with cows (Bos taurus; probably Angus beef cattle):

Ring-Necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), an introduced game bird:

9 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Wow, really lovely. The photo with the cows and snow geese fooled me at first glance. I thought the white wall was a rockery, as I couldn’t spot the geese without zooming in. Turns out it was more like a rookery!

  2. I had the same symptoms in December (sore throat and sniffles, but not covid, for I tested twice). I had to test about 4 days in a row before a got a positive. So, keep testing.

  3. That burrowing owl is so serious. Almost like he was sizing you up.
    Also, I wonder who named the meadowlark. Who could ever neglect S. neglecta?
    Thanks for another great collection Susan!

  4. I always enjoy your central valley photos- such a wide diversity of fauna and flora. That meadow photo is gorgeous. I love reptiles, so I feel for the poor alligator lizard. But birds gotta eat!

  5. Thanks for the very nice photos, Susan. i’m always impressed by what you’re able to find up there in California’s Central Valley

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