Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Woodbridge Ecological Reserve


Sandhill Cranes Above & Below, With Mt. Diablo

Sometimes you don't realize how long it's been since you last visited a place, even when your visit was to see, and hear, "the oldest living bird species on the planet." I would not have guessed that it's been ten years since I last drove out to Woodbridge Ecological Reserve to visit the sandhill cranes. When I looked up the reserve in preparation for my trip I found that you now need to buy a California Department of Fish and Wildlife Lands Pass, which can be had for about five bucks a day, but you have to specify the day in advance. I like to keep my schedule open, though, and since the money goes toward conservation, I bought an annual pass for $30.50, and I hope to get a lot more use out of it.

The parking area at the viewing platform seemed much the same as my last visit in January 2012, except for the chickens. It was still dark when I arrived, and when I turned off the car engine, a cock crowed. And then he crowed again. He was sounding off from his roost in a nearby tree, and can still be heard in the video below.

Even though it's been ten years since my last visit, I could still recall to mind the staccato honks of the cranes calling out to each other, a sound that might not have changed in the last 2.5 million years. It was exciting to hear them again in person. They were somewhere off in the dark distance, though, with none close to the viewing platform, so I drove farther up the road until I found a few cranes in a flooded field. Many of the regal birds had yet to stir to life, content to keep their beaks tucked warmly under their wings. 

Distant shotgun pops punctuated a soundscape owned mostly by the companion calls of snow geese and cranes. Both are popular game birds. The cranes tended to gather together in little cocktail party groups, while the snow geese gathered in their multitudes like conventioneers at a HonkerCon.

Once the sun came up, the cranes began to stir and fly off in small groups to their feeding grounds. It wasn't long before the group I'd been watching had dwindled away to nothing, gone like the wind. I drove north on Thornton Road to see if any of the cranes flew off to the nearby Cosumnes River Preserve, but it seemed pretty quiet there. I continued north to the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge which seemed even more quiet, then continued west to pick up CA-160 which heads south on a levee along the Sacramento River. The route criss-crosses the river over draw-bridges built in the 1920s and last rehabilitated more than 60 years ago (see video for crossing of the Steamboat Slough Bridge). Think about that the next time you cross one of these scenic old gems. 

Driving along the levee road was quite enjoyable, with the river right there, some interesting tiny towns along the way, and very light traffic all the way to Rio Vista. My final scenic stop came just before CA-160 crosses a bridge near the confluence of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers, where I pulled onto the shoulder to watch a huge flock of snow geese lift off and spiral back down to a new feeding ground. Green and burly Mt. Diablo ruled the background to the south, and a wind farm backdropped the geese to the north. 

Resting Cranes and Myriad Waterfowl at Dawn

Flocks of Snow Geese Getting An Early Start

The Cranes Begin to Stir

In small groups, the cranes peel away toward their feeding grounds.

Roadside Tree Silhouette

Same Tree in the Morning Sun

Moon Setting Over Almond Orchard

Birds Lifting My Spirits

Layers of the Land


Going the Other Way

King of the Viewing Platform

Snow Geese Along Sacramento River South of Rio Vista

SMUD's Solano 4 Wind Project

Mark Your Calendars!

A Cock Crows, A Bridge Is Crossed

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