Sandhill Cranes at the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge (and an unwelcome visitor)
One of the finest moments of my day comes on Tuesdays when I have a spare hour between the end of a lab and evening office hours. The Beckwith Road viewing platform on the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge is only about ten miles away.
In those few moments, I can drive out to the refuge just as the sun is reaching the horizon, and see what the migratory birds are up to. In the late fall, it began with the Aleutian Cackling Geese. They were there by the tens of thousands. In those first weeks, their honking was deafening.
Then the Snow Geese and Ross's Geese began arriving in large numbers. Few sights are more astounding than to see thousands of them taking off as one. During this time, the Sandhill Cranes were ever present, sometimes closer, sometimes farther away. The Department of Fish and Wildlife plants the fields with corn, and as the winter progresses, they will mow different parts of the crop, keeping up a constant supply of food for the hungry birds.
As the winter starts to drag on, the corn has been all mown, and the food starts to run a bit short. That's when observations become fun, because the birds start searching for corn at the edge of the field near the road. They became a great deal more tolerant of passing vehicles, and drivers using their cars as photography blinds. That's the way it was yesterday, when I was able to get quite a few shots of the Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis). The are grand, elegant birds. Their strange call at a great distance almost reminds me of purring cats. It feels like the sound carries for miles (you can hear some here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Sandhill_Crane/id).
As I was leaving in the twilight, I saw something moving between the refuge and the Stanislaus River off to the north. It is clear that the birds sometimes have good reason to be vigilant and cautious!