Although Leonard and I note the return of the sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) each February, we never bother to record when they depart for their winter grounds. It is more difficult to determine when one heard or saw the “last” sandhill crane of the fall than it is to note the first sighting or calls of the season. For the past twenty plus years the sandhill cranes always seemed to be gone by mid-September. Last year was an exception because sandhill cranes were still enchanting us with their majestic presence and distinctive calls in December – very unusual (see Changing Migration Patterns??)
One recent morning about a mile from our house (Lookout CA) a “construction” of sandhill cranes was feeding at the edge of an alfalfa field. They were beautiful in the morning sun. The sandhill cranes’ red crowns glowed in the early light and the rusty blotching on their grey feathers was clearly visible. Although we were awed by the cranes’ beauty, our first thoughts were that the cranes had not all departed yet for their wintering grounds. They seem to be late in leaving again this fall.
The sandhill cranes that breed here in Northeastern California probably winter in the Central Valley of California, although they could travel as far as Mexico.
Leonard and I would welcome the sandhill cranes as year-long residents, however, our winters are probably too severe. We are happy though that they seem to again be extending their stay.