Out at the Isenberg Crane Reserve off Woodbridge Road, the sky darkens as thousands of birds start circling to find a place to roost for the evening.
In October, the Sandhill cranes arrive outside of Lodi, feasting on abundant food and socializing with each other through vocal calls and dances. They will stay through spring, offering plenty of opportunities to photograph and observe the lanky, ash-gray birds.
Wildlife enthusiasts from all over Northern California will also migrate to Lodi this weekend to learn about these majestic birds. Local residents can enjoy the 17th annual Sandhill Crane Festival, too, from meeting raptors at Hutchins Street Square to snagging a spot on one of the wildlife tours.
This year, the festival has added tours at the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery, where people can learn about salmon. The goal is to create a festival where people can learn about the entire watershed where the birds live in while in Lodi, festival spokeswoman Kathy Grant said.
“Those Sandhill cranes, the water they are standing in at night to roost in is Mokelumne River water,” she said. “They are wetland birds, they belong to a river system. The salmon are part of that system, too.”
Below are some of the highlights of the festival:
The festival offers a plethora of tours today, Saturday and Sunday, offering a variety of ways to experience the cranes. The main tours are the fly-in tours in the evening, when the birds return from a day of foraging in fields and land at the places where they will roost for the night. For early birds, there is also an early morning photo tour with Lon Yarbrough, who will be a keynote speaker at the festival.
There are a variety of boating tours, from kayaking along the Mokelumne River to spending an afternoon on a patio boat in the Delta. One of the more unique tours is Raptors by Boat at Pardee Reservoir, where James Jones, a biologist for East Bay Municipal Utility District, will take guests on a search for golden and bald eagles arriving in the foothills.
To register for the tours, visit www.cranefestival.com/ tours.php. Registration is also available at Hutchins Street Square during the festival. Even if a tour is marked as sold out, there will generally be some spots available for those who register the weekend of the festival.
Grant recommends people sign up on Friday night or Saturday morning for the Sunday tours.
Opening reception and art show
The festival kicks off with an opening reception featuring local food and wine. Throughout the festival, there will be displays from artists who have depicted the cranes either with a camera or in a painting. The reception is from 6 to 8:30 p.m. tonight.
Lon Yarbrough: A regular participant at the festival, Lon Yarbrough has taught beginner photographers how to capture cranes and other wetland birds on film for years. He will be giving tips on how to both photograph and take video of the birds, as well as showing some of his own work. (12:30 p.m. Saturday)
Mike Best: Best runs Pacific Gas & Electric’s bird protection program. He works to prevent birds from flying into electrical wires through measures such as putting up reflectors. He also runs an owl box program. (1:30 p.m. Saturday)
David Lukas: One way to identify birds is through their vocalizations. Lukas, an expert in old growth riparian habitat in places like Lodi Lake, will discuss the wonders of bird song. He will also have a book signing before the presentation. (12:30 p.m. Sunday)
This talk will be a lead-in to a tour of Lodi Lake at 2 p.m., where birders will learn to match the calls to birds.
Dorothy Maas: A favorite at the festival, Dorothy Maas will bring a medley of puppets to tell stories about wildlife. After the presentation, kids can stay and meet the puppets. (12:30 p.m. Sunday)
Origami cranes: Take a break from the festival and learn how to fold a paper crane. The Central Valley Student Chapter of People to People International, a group promoting international understanding through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities, organized the crane project, and there will be a trail of folded cranes leading to the table in the Cottage-Pisano foyer.
Meet wildlife: Two of the big events for children are the wildlife shows, where actual animals are shown and described at the square.
On Saturday, Native Bird Connections will let kids meet raptors, owls and other birds of prey up close.
From 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, there will be WildThings! In past years, they have shared bears, raccoons, eagles, owls and other rescued animals.
Other opportunities: There are multiple programs running all day on Saturday and Sunday at the Square. Highlights include Native American flute circles, where beginners can come borrow a flute and learn how to play, a taiko drumming performance, owl pellet dissection for kids and even decoy duck carving. All the information on these programs can be found on the festival’s website at www.cranefestival.com.
The free festival centers around Hutchins Street Square, 125, N. Church St. The art show, exhibit halls, vendors and food are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, in addition to the opening reception from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at email@example.com.