They answer Autumn’s call and migrate to this area south of Sacramento. Greater sandhill cranes spend summers around the California/Oregon border; lesser sandhills come from the Arctic. They’re siblings of morning and dusk. Watch for them flying then, shouting calls like vibraphones. Herons and egrets fold their necks when they fly; cranes hold their necks straight in front of them, and their legs behind them, like flying pencils. They scatter the wetland’s water as they land and wade.
The wetlands around Cosumnes River were crammed with birds this weekend. Northern shovelers scooped small invertebrates and plants with spade like beaks. Pintails dunked their heads below the surface, and showed the white stripe on their faces when they swam forward. Black necked stilts strutted and sandpipers dashed along the damp ground. Red shouldered and red tailed hawks, who prefer reptiles and rodents to birds, watched from valley oaks. Clouds of redwinged blackbirds split apart into asymetrical shapes that sped all directions. Poison oak framed the scene with crimson leaves, willows and oaks with gold. The cranes appeared erratically, vanished in midair as they turned at an odd angle to the sun, and reappeared chanting to autumn.