Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sandhill Cranes of Lodi

Correction: It has been brought to my attention by a knowledgeable birder that the bird in the first three photos is a blue heron, not a sandhill crane, as I wrote below. As is the case with instant replay in sports, the goal is to get it right, so Thank You, Tom, and keep following us.

Standing a regal four feet tall and boasting wing spans of more than six feet, sandhill cranes are one of the oldest living species of birds in the world--fossils of these birds date back 10 million years.

And as we headed along Woodbridge Road west of I-5 a few miles north of Lodi, CA, we were greeted by this majestic sandhill crane.


It was nearing sundown as we gathered with others along the south side of Woodbridge Road one Saturday in early November. Cousin Barbara had been able to get us tickets for the docent-led talk and tour of the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, also known as the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve.

Sunset is the prime viewing opportunity for the daily “crane fly-in” from September to early March when the cranes establish their residence along the Pacific Flyway in the Reserve. The greater sandhill cranes (which stand about five feet tall) travel from Washington, Oregon, and northern California to their winter home around Lodi; the shorter lesser sandhill cranes stop in Lodi briefly on their migration from Alaska, Canada, and even Siberia to Mexico.
During this same fall/winter season, the Reserve also hosts over 30 species of birds. A large flock is shown in the array of dots below.
As members of our party surveyed the activity in the low freshwater marsh, grassland, and flooded pasture, one member spotted the animal barely visible in the center of the photo below. Its identity ranged from "a wolf," "a coyote" to "a dog."
A less threatening object of interest was much closer.
As the sun was setting, our group followed the docent to the locked north site of the Reserve which includes the crane viewing shelter and which can only be visited on a docent-led tour.
In the fading light of sunset, the beauty of these cranes in flight was barely visible, but the their musical calls filled the air. Some have compared these distinctive calls to a distant French horn or an off-key bassoon.


Hunters nearly wiped out the cranes in the 18th and 19th centuries, but hunting limits and habitat restrictions have prevented their extinction. Although sandhill hunting is not allowed in California, dikes, dams, pumping and plowing have wiped out about 95 percent of Central Valley wetlands--its natural habitat.

Another threat to the crane's continued existence was the California Gold Rush. During this time, the birds were sold like turkeys in San Francisco butcher shops. But in the past two decades, its population here has stabilized, with the help of new, crane-friendly farm practices that have helped preserve its habitat.

The Nature Conservancy partners with farmers, government and nonprofit groups to manage crops, grasslands and water to provide food and shelter for cranes and other birds on the Pacific Flyway migratory path.
Farmers flood fields at strategic times to stir up bugs for the cranes. Farmers harvesting corn often leave a little corn stock behind to nourish the birds.
Some rice and grain farmers are paid government incentives to adopt bird-friendly farming practices
In the last stages of sunset, the images of the birds are blurred due to the low amount of light. But even under these conditions, the cranes, which mate for life, find their mates and their summer-born young.
Adapted to live in flat, open fields, wetlands and ponds, the crane has a back claw located differently than most birds--limiting its ability to grasp branches and roost in trees.
To find safety at night, the cranes stand in ponds several inches deep. Coyotes trying to hunt cranes are given away by their splashing.
Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife biology, described the haunting sandhill call as "the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution" (Denis Cuff, Contra Costa Times 02/02/2012).

I like that description.

dfg.ca.gov/delta/cranetour
contracostatimes.com/ci_19879355
nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/california/explore/sandhill-cranes-have-returned

4 comments:

eyad ammar said...


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eyad ammar said...


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eyad ammar said...


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