It is nearly possible to forget the modern world here. Early mornings, when the first rays of sunlight filter through the canopy of valley oaks and vines, are my favorite. I have the sense that just about anything could hop into view. You just never know.
Recently, two friends and I began a bird-a-thon listening for waterbirds before dawn along Desmond Road, about three-quarters of a mile north of the visitor center. We heard the reedy whistle of Northern Pintails, the harsh call of a Dunlin, and the “oinking” of Virginia Rails but failed to record the hoped-for Least Bittern. As the sky brightened, we rushed to the forest as its birds became active — including eight species of warbler lingering late in the season. After a full day spent scouring the preserve’s wetlands, forests, and grasslands, we had found 128 species.
The 80-mile Cosumnes is the last undammed river flowing from the Sierra Nevada into the Central Valley. Its natural flooding cycles promote regeneration of wetlands and forests. The preserve has grown to 46,000 acres, including some of the best remaining valley oak riparian forest, plus wetlands, grasslands, and wildlife-friendly agriculture in an otherwise rapidly developing region. — Chris Conard
Chris Conard is a natural resource specialist at the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District Bufferlands, a regular field-trip leader for the Sacramento Audubon Society, and the Sacramento County editor for North American Birds.
Tule marsh, seasonal wetlands, willow and oak-dominated forests, grasslands, and vernal pools.
Mostly flat. The Lost Slough Wetlands Walk is a one-mile wheelchair-accessible trail. The Cosumnes River Walk is a three-mile dirt loop trail. The new Rancho Seco Howard Ranch trail is a seven-mile dirt loop through rolling grasslands and vernal pools.
Almost 300 species, including thousands of Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, and other waterfowl; Sandhill Cranes; and migrant songbirds in forests. Vagrants: Blackburnian and Prothonotary Warblers. Local specialties: White-tailed Kite, Yellow-billed Magpie, and Wrentit. Blue Grosbeak in low floodplain.
When to go
Excellent nearly year-round but slower in June and July. Songbird migration peaks in April and May and again from August to early October. Waterfowl abundant from October through March.
Visitor center open 9-5 on weekends (8-12 in summer). Restrooms. Bird surveys open to public (see website).
A multi-partner ecosystem-protection project. Admission and parking free. Trails open sunrise to sunset daily.
Mornings and evenings best. Sandhill Cranes fly in to roost in evenings. Check wetlands along Desmond Rd. just north of visitor center. A scope is helpful for waterfowl.