Continuing on the theme of exploring winter’s migrating avian visitors, this Christmas week we drove up to the Cosumnes River Preserve and environs near Sacramento to see the Sandhill Cranes. If you’re in the Sacramento area, or can get there, this is a helpful guide to great places to see them. We had most luck right across from the visitor center at dawn. But believe it or not, you can observe hundreds of thousands of them in the central parts of the U.S. The Audubon Society calls their spring gathering along Nebraska’s Platte River, “among the greatest wildlife spectacles on the continent”. At one time, you can see “over a quarter of a million birds”.
If you haven’t seen a Sandhill Crane, they’re definitely a site to behold. Standing at almost 4 feet high, their wingspans can reach ~7 feet! As part of their mating rituals, they’re known to “dance”, lifting into the air - as if jumping - and prance around to attract a prospective mate. Not expecting to see this behavior outside of the mating season, I was delighted to see them do something similar. I’m not sure if this was fighting or exasperated communications of another sort, but I thoroughly enjoyed the show. ;-)
I didn’t realize, until researching the best places to see them, that actually 2 different Sandhill Crane subspecies visit California during winter: Lesser and Greater Sandhill Cranes. If you don’t know much about Cranes, here are a few fun facts from @AudubonCA about Greater Sandhill Cranes who overwinter in our central farmlands:
At the same time, I’ve always loved the Cinnamon Teal. There’s something about their hues of deep crimson that make them another object of my affection. It was this very duck that opened my eyes many years ago to the realization that there are in fact many more duck species than the Mallard. One day walking my dogs in Virginia, I noticed this “odd-looking” duck in my backyard waterway. Why was this Mallard a deep crimson color? And so it began my education about Teals (Cinnamon, Blue-winged, Green-winged), Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Ruddies, Wood, and oh so many more beautiful ducks to discover. So imagine my excitement this week to realize that, while closely studying and enjoying the fascinating Cranes, that all the while the Cinnamons were right in front of me! Sure enough, maneuvering around the Cranes’ feet were none other than …. Cinnamon Teals. I have searched far and wide during previous winters to find the Cinnamons only to be disappointed to see a mere one or two here and there. Right here, right now, were an entire flock foraging in the shallows of the flooded farm fields!
While you may not get as excited as I do to stand out in the cold, blood draining from your hands, nose so cold you can no longer feel it (ok, I actually don’t either), I do hope you get the chance to get out and explore nature this winter. Maybe it’s not birds that are the objects of your own fascination but the changing of the trees across seasons, the beauty of frost on a leaf glistening in the sun, or a moonlight walk on a snow-covered field. Whatever brings you joy, get out and do it! I leave you with these words from famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was himself assuredly inspired by nature:
Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
Enjoy – and don’t forget your hat and gloves!! ;-)
This time of year is so exciting to me. Many winter migrants have arrived and I’m always eager to set out early mornings to see who has arrived overnight or over the last week. Do you know which birds come through your own area this time of year? If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you will see birds who have flown south to warmer climates. They are either stopping through or staying through the winter. The benefit of stepping out or looking out of your window for these birds is multi-fold. Realizing there is a whole ecosystem of life outside our own helps draw us into the present moment – dissolving our troubling or stressful thoughts.
The birds that you see have risked their lives, skipped many meals, flown many hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, to arrive. Spending your morning with a loved one, exploring – either through the window or at a local park – is a nice way to enjoy your day. My mother regularly peaks out her window and shows her great-grandchildren the many birds that come through. She’s thrilled that her great-granddaughter, Alaina, proudly ensures other people know about the birds she encounters now, too. What a blessing to give such a gift to a young child who can enjoy the wonders of nature.
In my own backyard this winter, I’ve discovered at least 2 new species I’ve not seen here before. We’ve lived in the same house over 10 years, so seeing new birds this winter was amazing! It’s likely due to a slight change in habitat these new species seek. Our garden has more growth from new low shrubs and purple sage this year and a clearing from trees that we had to cut down due to disease. We’ve seen Golden-crowned Sparrows and Orange-crowned Warblers, the latter of which I never even knew existed.
I’ve also been heading out along the San Francisco Bay’s many parks and to Monterey Bay, never disappointed. Right now on San Francisco Bay, we’re seeing Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, Green-winged Teals, Blue-winged Teals, Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Ruddy Ducks, and the latest arrivals, Lesser Scaup. The irony: I’ve seen SO MANY Northern Shovelers over the years at Palo Alto Baylands that I almost ignore them now. But this year, as they took to the skies or rose up on their haunches, I discovered even more colors on their plumage. They are even more captivating when their wings are open! Now my new obsession: being in the right spot, in the right light, at the right time, and the right angle with their back towards me, to catch this same beauty aflight. So far, only blurry pictures.... Luckily, I have the whole winter to keep trying! ;-)
Where will you go this winter to explore? Will you take your grandkids, your sons and daughters, your husband or wife, your mother or father, your best friend and go explore? As John Muir once said....
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”