Flying down through Sierra passes with juveniles in tow, the majestic sandhill cranes are coming home to delta habitats where visitors can get a good look. The greater sandhill, summering in northern California, Oregon and Washington, and attaining a height up to five feet with wing span of seven feet, is easy to spot and observe at Woodbridge Ecological Reserve in Lodi this time of year. The slightly smaller lesser sandhill subspecies is also viewable at the reserve as it returns from its summer respite in Alaska.
Both the greater and lesser sandhills will winter in the Central Valley from October through February.
Cranes have long been attributed with a “helpful nature,” as their social bonding behaviors draw much interest. Fifteen species of cranes are found worldwide and are revered in many cultures. The greater and lesser sandhill cranes of the Pacific Flyway are silver in color, the adults are distinguished with deep red crown markings that are not feathers, but are actually skin surface.
The Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) Woodbridge Ecological Reserve is located off of Woodbridge Road, north of Lodi and east of Interstate 5. The South Unit is open seven days a week for visitation and a series of interpretive panels provides guidance for recognizing and appreciating these marvelous birds. DFG manages the reserve with annual flooding of the reserve and mowing of grasses to create the habitat required for crane family “roosting” and “loafing.”
Docent led tours are also available the first three Fridays and Saturdays of the month. A donation of $10 per adult is suggested. Visitors should pre-register online at www.dfg.ca.gov/delta/cranetour. Tours begin an hour and a half before sundown as the cranes fly in to the reserve’s North Unit. This area is only accessible to visitors on the tour.
Lodi’s 15th Annual Sandhill Crane Festival will also be held Nov. 4-6. More information about the festival may be found at www.cranefestival.com.