BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SENTINEL Sandhill cranes arrive for the night with Mount Diablo in the background as the sun sets at the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve in Lodi Thursday evening, Oct. 26, 2017.

The Sandhill Crane Association invites birders, nature lovers and community members to attend its 23rd annual Sandhill Crane Festival at Hutchins Street Square next weekend.

The Sandhill crane has many distinguishing features, including its large stature, mating dance, and a red patch on its forehead. The cranes migrate to the Delta wetlands every year from as far away as Siberia.

“What’s so unique about our Delta here is the freshwater environment surrounded by marshland where these birds can forage,” says Kathy Grant, publicity chairwoman of the Sandhill Crane Festival’s steering committee. “It’s important to protect the Delta region for the good of these migrating birds.”

Grant mentioned that extensive farming in the 1940s led to a decrease of habitable land, and as a result, there were as few as five mating pairs left in the local area. Through partnerships with community members, local farmers and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, a recovery effort was launched and revived the population of cranes to the thousands the winter in the region today.

The bird watching community is as diverse as the birds, according to Grant.

“A ‘birder’ is someone who sees the value of habitat and tries to have it protected for the good of the birds,” she says. “We do what we do because we want the young kids to come along and enjoy what we see.”

The festival presents an exciting opportunity to share this passion with the Lodi community.

The three-day festival kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday with a silent auction and opening dinner catered by Bueno Italiano Cafe of Lodi. Tickets are $40 and must be purchased at the festival’s website in advance.

Also commencing Friday evening at 6 p.m. is the 2019 Sandhill Crane Festival Art Show. Watercolors, oils, photographs, and other fine art will be on display in the Cottage-Pisano rooms throughout the weekend. Admission is free, and viewers can vote for their favorite artwork for the “People’s Choice Award.”

Saturday and Sunday schedules are filled with free presentations and workshops by experts in Sandhill crane history and conservation. There will also be hands on opportunities including painting and wood carving workshops. In particular, The Cranium is a hands-on, interactive miniature science and nature museum.

“It’s like a beginner’s entryway into the world of birding,” Grant says.

Those interested in seeing the majestic cranes in person can register for one of the many tours being offered Friday through Sunday.

“Hopefully there’s beautiful colors for the sundown, and you’ve got Mount Diablo in the distance. It’s really a very primordial experience,” Grant said. “It’s like what old California must have looked like before the skyline was lost to buildings and wineries.”

Spots are limited, and reservations fill up quickly, so be sure to register as soon as possible. Details for payment and reservation options can be found at the Sandhill Crane Festival website.

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