Originally published November 15, 2011. You can find more photos of the Sandhill Cranes at my on-line gallery.
Our alarm went off at 4:30 AM–time to get up and out to the airport to visit my wife’s family in California for six days. Everything packed, including the camera gear, we were off. The weather was clear as the engines of our A319 Airbus spooled up for taxi and departure. After a stop in Chicago we arrived in Sacramento around 12:30 PM and were picked up by my wife’s sister, Debbie. Since this was primarily a family visit we figured we would just get out for an occasional brief foray.
As it turned out, all three of my wife’s sisters found bird watching pretty engaging. The brief forays turned into five outings 3 to 6 hours long! With four binocular toting spotters I shot about 600 bird photos.
The Sacramento Valley has a delta on its south side where it meets the San Joaquin Valley. This Delta is a large expanse of interconnected canals, streambeds, sloughs, marshes and peat islands. The entire area is a flood plain “protected” by a series of levees. Birds, particularly water birds, are abundant here.
Our first outing took us to Woodbridge Ecological Reserve www.dfg.ca.gov (near the home of the Woodbridge wine folks). Here we saw our first Sandhill Cranes, along with a host of other birds. According to the National Geographic Field Guide, ” . . . it [the Sandhill Crane] breeds on tundra and in marshes and grasslands.” It winters mostly in California, the Southwest, and Mexico.” Many water birds, including the Sandhill, were nearly decimated due to intense hunting during the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries. By 1983 the Sandhill Cranes were listed as a threatened species.This reserve, along with other preserves, is used by the cranes for roosting at night. During the day these cranes feed in dry fields, returning to water at dusk. We experienced their evening return at the Cosumnes River Preserve www.cosumnes.org . There, we saw hundreds of cranes returning to join two flocks–one at the north and the other at the south end of the preserve–what a sight!
We also attended the 15th annual Sandhill Crane festival in Lodi www.cranefestival.com (I even bought the hat!). There was something for everyone–exhibits, bird-watching paraphernalia, lectures, and, of course food. I bought a shoulder harness to save my neck from the 5 pound camera & lens that I hauled around to take the photographs. I also attended a lecture on how to take sharp, free-hand pictures of birds in flight (do the photos look any sharper than prior sets?).
Our last outing was a trip to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Sacramento. Here we saw a number of small birds, including the boisterous Acorn Woodpeckers. The birds drill into deadwood, then fly off to find acorns that they stuff into their tree holes for safe-keeping.
Down along the American River we sat for a while watching Turkey Vultures sun themselves on a raised bed in the middle of the river. Joining them was a Great Blue Heron, a Snowy Egret, and an Osprey–the latter flying from a tree across the river to take a bath.
Our 6 days over, John and Debbie drove us back to the airport for our return flights. After a few days of culling and processing photos, only 34 of the 600 photos made it to the on-line gallery.
The big question now, where to next?