The semester is almost over, and I have travel on my mind. We’re heading to the Sierra Nevadas soon, and to help get me in the mood, I’ll be co-hosting a Twitter chat about Lake Tahoe, California, on Monday, Nov. 17 at 12:00 p.m. PST. I’d love for you to join me and the folks from Flipkey, and check out their new virtual tour of Lake Tahoe! Isn’t it cool? We’ll be chatting about what makes this part of California so special. If you’ve been to Lake Tahoe, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, well…you’ll love it!
This is a special time of year around here. One reason to celebrate the change in seasons is the arrival of birds for their winter migration stop. The most famous visitor is the greater sandhill crane, a huge bird that stands 5 feet tall and has a gray body and red cap on its head. People actually travel here (and to Nebraska) to see them, and there’s even a crane festival in nearby Lodi, but despite my love of birds, I hadn’t gone to see them.
Lately, we’ve taken advantage of our location near important wetlands and have visited one of the preserves to see the cranes at sunset. It was a beautiful experience, one I wish I had started doing years ago.
The Cosumnes River Preserve is a 46,000-acre preserve of wetlands just 20 minutes south of Sacramento. This area is part of the Delta, an flat area in the valley where the rivers provide patches of water where birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway can stop and find peaceful surroundings. Despite the fact that many of these wetlands decreased or disappeared, there’s been a push to protect and even restore wetlands in California.
Besides the greater sandhill cranes that come here to sleep at night, the preserve is home to many other bird species, like geese, ducks, coots, plovers, herons, and many, many more birds. The first time we visited this season, we could see that we were not the only ones coming just for sunset.
The preserve has miles of hiking and shorter walking paths that go right through the water. Because we came just before sunset, we stayed on the smaller paths by the water. All the paths are flat and are accessible people of all fitness levels, including those in a wheelchair.
The excitement really started when we saw the silhouettes of the cranes flying in the distance. As they got closer, it became clear that they were the sandhill cranes because of their size; they’re about 5 feet tall and have large wingspans. They are also very noisy!
As the cranes flew right over our heads looking for a place to land, they called out and received calls from the cranes that were already in the water near us. Hearing how they call to each other was amazing! I love seeing nature at work–migration is an ancient pattern, and to witness a tiny piece of it was a powerful experience for us all.
As it got darker, the cranes were ready to go to sleep (they sleep in water to protect themselves from predators like coyotes). The colors of the sky only became more intense, and we walked slowly to take in the reflections in the water. As we walked to the car, several large flocks of other kinds of birds flew in over our heads, looking for a place to rest for the night.
A couple of weeks after this wonderful evening, we decided to bring my 92-year-old grandmother to see the sandhill cranes. My mom, her husband, and my grandmother met us there last weekend. We waited for the sun to go down and had an early dinner snack.
The sunset was stunning, but…
…there was one thing missing: the cranes!
We saw a couple of cranes and lots of other birds, but we missed the excitement of seeing groups of cranes suddenly come into view and then call to each other. We don’t know why they didn’t come this evening.
I rarely spend time outdoors in the evenings, but visiting the preserve at sunset reminded me of the wonder of nature and the importance of trying new things. I’ve been living here for 12 years but had never visited the preserve at sunset. What a beautiful experience I had been missing! (Learn more about it here.)