In the mid-1980s when I first photographed the Sandhill Cranes on the Carrizo Plain there seemed to be several hundred flying back and forth between grain fields and Soda Lake.
There are fewer acres being farmed out there now, and fewer birds to be seen the last time I was out there. I am not sure if I hit an off year or if they are finding other places to stay.
The birds are wary are large, up to 5 feet tall with a wing span up to seven feet. The cranes that winter in California will migrate as far as Alaska in the summer.
Sandhill Cranes seem to be thriving in the central valley, Lodi celebrates a crane festival.
Speaking of festivals the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival kicks off this weekend with the 2013 edition. Tours include locations from the Carrizo Plain to the waters off of Morro Rock.
This story is from the Dec. 31, 1966 edition of the then Telegram-Tribune.
[The 1966 story hyphenated Sand-hill but it has been edited to conform with current style.]
Sandhill cranes are a wary lot
Great flights of Sandhill Cranes, estimated to number in excess of 10,000, are wintering in the Carrisa Plains and attracting the attention of bird watchers from throughout central and Southern California.
The cranes are a long-legged, long-necked bird with a wing span of six to seven feet and often stand as tall as a man. They have learned to be extremely wary and usually can be photographed only by telescopic lens.
The Paso Robles Audubon Society is sponsoring a field trip to the Plains next Saturday, when members of the Riverside Chapter of the Sierra Club have been invited to view the cranes. All interested persons are invited to join the group, which will leave the California Valley Lodge at 5:30 a.m. It will return to the California Valley for breakfast and then make a side trip to inspect the San Andreas Fault.
Guide for the trip is Louis Wilson of San Luis Obispo, a member of the Paso Robles Club, who has been observing the cranes for several lyears.
“A person who is lucky enough to be there when a flight of several hundred of these birds goes over will have an unforgettable sight,” Wilson said. “This is one of the greatest concentrations of these majestic birds in North America. They often move on from here to the Southwest as food becomes scarce.”
The cranes are completely protected by law and have been for 30 years, Game Warden Howard Martin said.
Apparently in the early 20th Century the survival of the species was in doubt. The birds are slow to mature and are not prolific. However the populations have rebounded to the point that hunting is now allowed in Alaska.