Some very beautiful birds are back from their summer sojourn in the wilds of the far north. The Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) have been sighted over our county for the last two weeks, but this weekend was our first real chance to see if they are back in large numbers at our local wildlife refuges. They are! We saw at least 260 of them at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge and another 400 at the Merced National Wildlife. That's only a fraction of what is to come, however. In a few weeks there will be on the order of 15,000 cranes overwintering at the San Joaquin, San Luis, and Merced refuges. They'll be sharing the refuge with tens of thousands of Snow Geese, Ross's Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese and others who are still on their way, but have yet to arrive. The winter is a fascinating time in the Great Valley of California.
The birds have a unique deep-toned bugling call that can be heard over several miles. There have been times that I've heard them high overhead, but so far away that I couldn't find them in the sky. It's one of the harbingers of the fall season around here.