|Sandhill cranes arrive at their roosting place. In the background: Mt. Diablo.|
Festival date: Nov. 2-3, 2012
Last year I found out about the annual Sandhill Crane Festival in Lodi, about two weeks after it was over. So when the fall of 2012 came around, I remembered and registered with my family to four of the field trips offered at the festival.
We arrived at Lodi on Friday night and stayed their until Sunday afternoon. It was a perfect weekend - the weather was sunny and warm, the activities were well organized and interesting, and most important - the birds cooperated in full and showed up in large quantity and diversity. Even our quail chikas were at their best behavior and we all had a lovely time.
So this post is one of the occasional 'no hiking but lots of birds' posts, where Mamma Quail shows off her feathered friends in Nature. We did get some good ideas for places to hike, though, sometime in the future. For now it's just birds. You can click on the photos to get a large view.
Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012,
We woke up early in the morning, gulped down some quick breakfast and hurried to Hutchins Street Square to join the group going on the Birding Hot Spots tour. Our guide, a knowledgeable bird watcher named Scott, took us to three places around Lodi. The first of which was the White Slough Wildlife Area, at the White Slough water treatment facility (38.0932, -121.3876).
Some were solitary,
|A merlin after a successful hunt|
|Peregrine falcon (pacific, juvenile)|
The first bird we've seen there was very conspicuous - a big black swan waddled towards us, stretching and curling her long neck in territorial gestures. Later we saw two others in the local pond. They, of course, are no native birds.
|Imported black swans|
We didn't have to look very hard for birds. They were everywhere.
|White-throated sparrow |
At 4:45 we were on the tour bus going to Woodbridge Road. West of I-5 Woodbridge Road stretches between open fields and dead-ends by the Mokelumne River. Some of this fields are flooded yearly to provide roosting place for the Sandhill Cranes. Our guide, Carol, stopped the bus near one of these fields. It was still early in the afternoon and we stepped outside to look at the inhabitants of the field. There were many dowitchers there. This long-billed waders are named after the sawing machine because of the constant up-down movement of their needle-like bill in and out of the water as they forage.
Last year we flew all the way to New Mexico to see the famed spectacle in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and failed, because we arrive there a day after a huge blizzard and the place was snowed-in throughout our stay there.
This year, however, it was a different story altogether.
|Sandhill cranes - a family trio|
|The fly-in: a large flock approaching.|
|Cranes fly with both neck and legs stretched out.|
The crane family life also resemble that of humans - the sandhill cranes do 'marry' in a process that involved early age dating, courtship and leading a monogamous, years long relationship. They were thought to mate 'for life', but that too, is like humans - with incidents of adultery, divorces and swaps not too uncommon.
|Cranes at sunset|
|Greater (left) and Lesser (right) sandhill cranes at the flooded fields|
Roosting in the water protects the cranes from land predators. When I heard my chikas pretend-play to be cranes I suggested they sleep standing up in a half-filled bath tub. Needless to say, they did not buy my idea.
|Greater and Lesser sandhill cranes getting ready for the night|
|Mt. Diablo, orange sunset and cranes. Truly poetic.|
On Sunday, Nov. 4 at 7:30 am we were driving with our tour-mates to the river marina where we were split into two boats and set for the Mokelumne river. Our boat driver and guide, Jacky, took us into the nooks and crannies of the river delta, close to the trees at the river banks and among tule reeds and water hyacinth floating islets.
|Tule bunches provide perfect hidings and perching spots for black phoebes and blackbirds.|
Water Hyacinth originates in China and is an invasive species. It spreads quickly and clogs the waterways.
It also provides a good perch for the Snowy Egret:
It was on this tour where we got to see many kinds of heron. Green herons and night herons were quite numerous, standing in groups of 3 or 4 in the bushes by the water.
The largest member of the family - a great blue heron perched on a bridge:
Great Blue Heron
While herons made the majority of the birds we've encountered on the cruise, we were also treated by the appearance of a northern harrier: a graceful, long-tailed raptor that glided near our boat, swooping by slowly in search of voles.
Northern Harrier, adult male
It was a very peaceful and enjoyable cruise. This flock of tundra swans, their long necks stretched, flew above our heads in a perfect V. It was all that was needed to complete the pastoral dream we were cruising in.
|Tundra Swans in commute|
We went on our last tour, Crane Roving, with Gary Ivey, an expert on Sandhill cranes. We went to the same area in Woodbridge road to observe the cranes during day time. They were not difficult to find - nearly every open field was spotted with cranes.
|Sandhill cranes, grazing|
|Cranes in the fields|
|Cranes in flight - outstretched are the long legs and long neck - an unmistakable form.|
Being a ground bird myself, I am always impressed by the agility of expert fliers like these blackbirds and their ability to coordinate their movements together in such large groups:
|A cloud of blackbirds|
|Bald Eagle, juvenile|