April 11, 9 am.
Today I choose to take a walk out on Berry Creek anticipating new spring bird songs. The incoming migrant birds are so much fun to listen for! It is amazing to me that in just a couple of weeks there will be many different songs to pay attention to. Right now there are just a few new ones to enjoy. The Orange-crowned Warbler, the Chipping Sparrow, the Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and today for the first time the lovely black-capped, bright yellow, Wilson’s Warbler is singing its chippy, staccato song.
As I am immersed in these thoughts, a loud honking gets my attention. A small group of four Canada Geese goes flying by, fairly low, over me. This is not an unusual sight in the Willits Valley, and in fact, for months now, there are always some of these geese honking overhead. But this time I notice there is also a different sound. There are four geese and then at the end of the line, there is a large very grey-white looking bird. It flies right over my head and I get a very good look at it. It is making a rattling sort of “cronking” ( not honking) and realize that it is a Sandhill Crane! This is a very unusual visitor to the Willits area. The closest ones I have seen are in the Central Valley near Williams.
The Sandhill Crane is a bird that migrates from Mexico to British Columbia and farther north in Alaska but mainly in the interior, not along the coast in California. They range in height from 3.5 feet to 4.5 feet tall and is a is a bird that loves wetlands and grasslands habitats. Well, this is a wonderful wetland-grassland area maybe it is checking out the possibility of living here. Usually, they live in big colonies, sometimes tens of thousands of Sandhill cranes living together. This is just one lone juvenile bird. Did it get blown out of its area, away from the group? As I am thinking all these things, I see it land in an adjacent field so I hurry over to take some photos.
The geese have flown on but this young crane has now landed and joined a group of wild turkeys. They are about 5 males and 2 females. The crane follows them and begins right away doing the same things that the turkeys are doing, walking along hunting for insects, frogs, small mammals, seeds and other grains. It bobs its head up and down just like the turkeys. Then the males stop and begin to gobble and display for the juvenile crane. They circle it and make their rattle sounding calls. The crane seems impressed and I wonder what is going through the heads of the turkeys? Have they found the most beautiful, tallest, turkey ever? It makes me smile as I watch this dance of two completely different species of birds interact. There is much to wonder about as I watch them all disappear into the riparian area on Berry Creek. What will happen to that Sandhill crane? Will it stay for a while in the Little Lake Valley?
Another mysterious and wonder-filled day in this beautiful valley habitat.