To give residents a chance to see an annual bird migration, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Sandhill Crane Wetland Tour Program offers weekend tours October through February at the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve outside of Lodi.
The cranes are a great draw to the Lodi area and CDFW Interpretive Services staff relishes the opportunity to provide important messages of conservation to many people. More than 20,000 visitors have attended the docent-led tours over the last two decades.
The cranes typically arrive in large numbers in late September, but in some years, including this year, scattered reports of the arrival of small groups were reported as early as late August by Central Valley Birds Group and Lodi Sandhill Crane Association.
Preparation is currently underway by CDFW to make the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve hospitable habitat for these birds and many other waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway. The flooding of the reserve will be underway mid-September along with the mowing of high grasses supporting the foraging and roosting needs of the migrating cranes. Due to the current drought, water available from the Mokelumne River to flood the Ecological Reserve has been reduced. Despite this reduction in available water, the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve is anticipated to be one of the best remaining wintering habitats for Sandhill cranes in the state.
The late-afternoon tours, which begin Oct. 3, are offered first through third Saturdays and Sundays of each month for the five-month duration of the cranes’ fall/winter season stay in the valley. Online pre-registration is required and may be done up to eight weeks prior to the tour date. Registration is now open for October dates and will soon open for November tour dates. More information may be found at www.wildlife.ca.gov/regions/3/crane-tour.
The reserve is readily accessible at any time for self-guided tours. A series of informative interpretive panels at the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, South Unit on Woodbridge Road provides visitors with a wealth of information about the cranes and their habitat. Staying till sundown is recommended for witnessing sights and sounds of the “fly-over” as groups of cranes return to roosting spots for the evening.
CDFW is also a co-sponsor the Lodi Sandhill Crane Festival, slated for Nov. 6-8 this year. Information about festival tours and activities is available at www.cranefestival.com/index.php.