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!! ;-)