Stalking the Sandhill Cranes

I discovered a wonderful barrier-free trail — one that’s ideal for viewing the transient Sandhill Cranes — on my way home from the dentist yesterday. Truth be told, Charles discovered it, but I was along for the ride. It’s in the Consumnes River Nature Preserve, located just off Interstate 5 at Twin Cities Road, near Galt.

Actually there are two trails worth noting there, the Lost Slough Trail and a short boardwalk that branches off from it. The big attraction there is the birds, although we also ran across a snake on the trail.

Best bet is to start your adventure at the visitors center, which features accessible parking near the entrance and ramped access to the building. The building itself overlooks the wetlands area, so it’s also a good vantage point for birding.

The Lost Slough Trail starts behind the visitors center. This one-mile loop is paved, level and very wheelable. There are several viewing areas along the way and a few bridges and boardwalks that pass over the wetlands.

Near the end of the loop, a half-mile boardwalk branches off to the right. Again, it’s level and completely wheelchair-accessible. There’s also a nice viewing area, overlooking the marsh at the end of the trail; however it’s important to note that the boardwalk closes at dusk, as the birds tend to roost there at night. Still, there’s plenty of activity during the day as we spotted Great Egrets, Northern Pintails, Red Winged Blackbirds, Turkey Vultures and Sandhill Cranes.

The Sandhill Cranes are special to this area, as they reside here from September – February. Lodi even has a big Sandhill Crane festival every November. According to the biologist we met along the trail, the Sandhill Cranes prefer the newly flooded areas of the preserve. Still, they seem to be everywhere.

There are several other sites in the area where you can see the Sandhill Cranes, but this one really appears to be the most accessible. There is also a tour conducted on most Saturdays at dusk at one of the other areas. Apparently the Sandhill Cranes fly in to that preserve in masses at that time of the day. As our biologist friend pointed out, they are very predictable, and when they find area they like, they keep coming back.

So I’m hoping for more Sandhill Crane sightings this winter, and I plan to check out the other viewing area as well. Stay tuned for more updates.