Posted by: atowhee | December 30, 2007

Craning in the rain

two-cranes.jpgThese two Sandhills were photographed by David Assman north of Lodi, California.

We got to spend a couple hours birding Sauvie Island today.  It’s been a couple decades since I was there the first time for my only previous visit.  It was the first place I’d seen Sandhill Cranes, when I was a beginning birder.  The couple thousand Sandhills that winter here are one of the northernmost wintering populations in America.  This island, northwest of Portland, Oregon, at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers,  is also a major staging area for the migrating cranes en route to California each fall.

Sauvie Island is much like the San Joaquin Delta further south,.owlying, flood prone, flat and muddy.  About half the island’s  acres are wildlife preserve, much lof the rest is widlife friendly farmland.  Cattle ranches and corn fields are encouraged because they help sustain huge winterign flocks of waterfowl.  Foremost in population are Cackling and smaller varieties of Canada Geese.  These wintering birds number in the tens of thousands.  In one lake there were a few dozen Tundra Swans.  One wildlife info sign said there can be up to 2,000 swans on Sauvie in a winter.  There were even a half dozen Snow Geese along the muddy bank of the Willamette’s Multnomah Channel.

 We were in Portland for a family gathering and talked a coupl;e of relatives into going with us.  No small showing of trust ontheir part.  It was Portland raining, almost redundant.  The sky was low and dark gray.  The cranes actually stood out as pale figures before the dismal sky beyond them.  It was windy and cold, the Columbia River mud the texture of melted brown sugar.  Yet they went gamely along.  Perfect weather as it was the day of the Sauvie Island Christmas Bird Count.  We counted four counters, each as wet and cold as the little Kestrel that seemd to be drooped over power lines and limbs.

Besides the inpressive crowds of honkers, cranes, swans, Snow Geese, a few Pintails, Shovelers, hordes of Coots, we had numerous Kestrel, Red-tails, three Northern Harriers, a speeding Merlin, Herring and Thayer’s Gulls, riverine Double-crested Cormorants that were clearly never going to dry their feathers on this day, misty clouds of blackbirds, some nearby Western Meadowlarks and a pasture of Scottish Highland cattle. 

Sauvie Island is easy to reach from central Portland, head west on US 30 toward Astoria and watch for the lone two-lane bridge to Sauvie Island on your right as you head west past the suburbs of Portland.  About fifteen minutes from central P-land.

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