Emily Reflects on the Return of the Cranes

Every year around June I start longing for the cool relief of fall and as it finally approaches, I start to wonder what many other birders in the Central Valley are wondering…where are the cranes at? Will they be early? And for me, will that one banded crane come back again with this year’s colts?

Here in the Sacramento San-Juaquin Delta the arrival of cranes is preceded by a steady flow of early migrants as they make their way from their breeding grounds up north, down along the Pacific Flyway, and south toward their wintering grounds. In early fall I keep my eye out for white faced Ibis, and smaller sandpipers like the Least and Western Sandpipers. Once they are here, I know migration is underway and it won’t be much longer.
By early September I find myself staring at the sky, often with my head tilted as I listen for that loud, dinosaur-like call. Then, just like that…They’re here! Within the first few weeks of September the first few arrive, often in small family units. As September bleeds into October, cranes begin to arrive in larger groups which they will stay in until spring. While breeding pairs will spend the summer separated from other pairs, they will begin flocking up in fall prior to migration and will form large social flocks on the wintering grounds. Sandhill cranes are also site-fidelic, making it likely you will see the same cranes returning year after year.

With the cranes come geese, canvasbacks, and swans, and every fall the serene Delta wetlands are quickly transformed as hundreds of thousands of waterbirds reclaim their wetlands for the winter. So, you may wonder, where should one go to see the sky blacken with birds as the geese come in to roost, or to see hundreds of Sandhill Cranes dance at sunset? Throughout the Delta is a network of land managed to provide habitat to these birds including publicly owned properties like Cosumnes River Preserve, Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, and Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and private properties like Staten Island, CA, where you can watch cranes fly in from along the public road. Each location will have its own unique views, and at locations like Cosumnes you will have other recreational opportunities like hiking and kayaking. Each location comes with its own rules, so no matter where or when you go birding always remember to be respectful both of the birds and the land you are visiting, and help make sure that these birds will continue to come back for years to come.

Emily Wells

Conservation Farms

Biologist

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