Cranes and more

Photo Credit: Lon Yarbrough

By Tina Suarez-Murias of Save Our Sandhill Cranes | February 2022

Tina Suarez-Murias, AICP, is a certified planner by profession and a Board Member of Save Our Sandhill Cranes (SOSC), based in Sacramento.

On behalf of those who were able to visit the Isenberg Preserve on the ECOS Field Trip on January 21, I’d like to thank Mike Savino, a trained docent for the CA Department of Fish & Wildlife. He was able to take us into the restricted research/study area of the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve to observe the “evening fly-in” to one of the cranes’ overnight roosting areas. Mike also explained frequently observed crane behaviors and the special anatomical adaptions of these large, but elegant birds. Generally, the cranes arrive by October and stay through February, before flying north, as far as Alaska, where they breed and fledge their young during the summer.

The Reserve, also known as the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve, honors Phil & Marilyn Isenberg for their efforts to protect this habitat for the Greater and Lesser Sandhill Cranes that migrate to this region every fall to overwinter until spring. The Reserve is split in two parts along Woodbridge Road off I-5, south of Galt. The northern portion is restricted to docent-led tours, but the southern portion is always open to the public for viewing the Sandhill Cranes and other waterbirds that utilize the large shallow ponds near the parking area.

It’s a visual and audible treat to be on the southern side of Woodbridge an hour before dusk when hundreds of cranes fly in after a day of foraging in nearby harvested farm fields. The viewing area has beautiful educational signs about the cranes and their behaviors, so you can share what you learn with your friends as you watch cranes land and dance. Cameras and simple binoculars add to the fun. With a higher-powered scope you can see the adult crane’s red head – which is blood-filled skin, not feathers! Watch for the resident barn owls that occasionally swoop through too!

Because the wet areas around Sacramento are on the Pacific Flyway, you can see all sorts of birds migrate through. Other migrating birds, such as snow geese, stilts, and so many ducks (!) visit Woodbridge, the flooded rice paddies, the Nature Conservancy’s Staten Island, the Yolo Bypass, and the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Here’s a tip: Cranes always travel in pairs or groups, which helps you notice the difference from the large Great Blue Heron and the white egret, which are usually solitary in behavior when foraging in this region’s wetlands.

To watch crane families’ summer activities, I recommend this link to one of my favorite websites about Lesser Sandhill Cranes in Alaska: Featured Videos | Kachemak Crane Watch. Nina Faust, of Inspiration Ridge Preserve near Homer in Alaska, posts all her wonderful videos of cranes parenting and colts (baby cranes) learning to fly. The Greater Sandhill Cranes fly north to Modoc County to breed in the summer at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge Modoc National Wildlife Refuge – Modoc – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (

On another subject, the vernal pools of the Central Valley spring to life as winter ends. Both SMUD’s Rancho Seco and SPLASH south of Mather Field have trails around theirs and offer tours. The vernal pool habitat cannot be recreated easily. The pools are ephemeral and evolved over time in slight depressions underlain by hardpan (tight, compressed, clay soil) found in the Central Valley’s ancient inland sea lake bed. There are only one or two months each spring when the dormant plants and animals found in these otherwise desiccated pools can emerge and flourish in the water that ponds during the wet season. Be on the lookout for vernal pools in the undeveloped prairies and meadows near you! Take pictures and enjoy this disappearing habitat.

We do need to have better ways to “design with nature.” It’s difficult to balance the needs of a growing human population with the other non-human communities we need to live with too. It would be good if more people understood the trade-offs.

Fish are jumpin’

By Lynne Goldsmith, former Bike Program Director, LA Metro

The ECOS Field Trip to the American River in October 2021 witnessed habitat restoration work, that is, gravel restoration in the lower American River to promote the wild spawning of native steelhead and salmon. The Nimbus and Folsom Dams limit the flow of gravel and sediments necessary for a quality spawning and rearing habitat in the lower American River. This habitat restoration project replenishes this resource. For more information, see the write-up below from

We accessed the river by just a short walk from the Effie Yeaw Nature Center, 2850 San Lorenzo Way, Carmichael.

Life-Giving Gravel: For over 10 years, the Water Forum has partnered with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), along with the city and county of Sacramento to implement gravel restoration projects in the lower American River to promote the wild spawning of native steelhead and salmon. This essential project is undertaken yearly because quality spawning and rearing habitat for Chinook salmon and steelhead is limited on the lower American River because of Nimbus and Folsom Dams.

Fall-run Chinook Salmon migrate upstream as adults to spawn from October through December. In the egg-laying process, females create a “nest” in loose gravel in flowing water, depositing their eggs and then covering them up with more gravel. Gravel is carefully placed in the river before fall-run salmon are triggered by cooling temperatures to spawn, and after the high spring and summer flows. Our channel restoration projects are designed to create habitat based on modeling that takes into account factors such as water velocity and depth. The project replenishes a resource that has historically been an important part of the lower American River and its delicate ecosystem.


ECOS FIELD TRIP — ECOS’ Sandhill Crane Tour 1/21

Please sign up to attend ECOS’ Sandhill Crane Tour, volunteer field trip, on Friday, January 21.

We’ll meet Mike Savino, our tour lead from Save our Sandhill Cranes, and check in with him at:

Woodbridge Ecological Reserve (AKA Isenberg Crane Reserve), 11154 W. Woodbridge Rd, Lodi
Please print a parking permit for your car, by clicking here. If you cannot print one, that’s OK, you will be covered by another person having one.

Mike will talk about crane biology, behavior, and conservation status. We will then drive to a viewing site for sandhill cranes. Bring your binoculars, dress with layers for the evening, and wear an N95 mask for Covid (we’ll have N95 masks for whoever needs one). ECOS members Tina Suarez-Murias and Rob Burness plan to be with us to add to the discussion.

4:10 pm arrival at site
4:25 pm tour start
~5:50 pm wrap-up and depart

Directions from Sacramento (allow 40 minutes from downtown Sacramento to Crane Reserve):
• Take I-5 south, exit at Peltier Road. Turn left to go under I-5, and turn right (south) at the frontage road (Thornton Road). After 2 miles, turn right (west) at Woodbridge Road (see sign “Phil & Marilyn Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve”). Continue 2.5 miles to a pullout on left side. This is the Reserve’s South unit, where our tour will begin.

New American River Fish Ladder- Join our ECOS Tour!

Monday, November 29, 12:20 – 2 PM

Our late October rains have allowed the salmon to come back up the river!

California Fish & Wildlife’s Interpretive Services Supervisor will show us their new and improved fish ladder.

Now with 9 large viewing windows –

A great way to see the salmon swim and jump their way into the Nimbus Hatchery.

First come, first served – reserve now; due to covid, only ten visitors on this first CDFW tour.

Our tour will explore the following features:
• River discovery trail and observation deck with view of natural spawning processes
• Nimbus Basin, habitat restoration, and the ladder entrance

Logistics and Accessibility
• If driving, you can park free at 2001 Nimbus Rd. Our tour host will meet us where the parking lot meets the trail.
• No bathrooms available. Closest bathrooms at the nearby Tributary Point shopping center.
• The river discovery trail is about a quarter mile long and flat.
• Nimbus basin is best accessed by walking across the crosswalk at Hazel Ave: 5 min walk from the visitor center. Or for a shorter walk, park at the Sac State Aquatic Center (paid parking).
• It’s a semi-steep incline into the Basin and the restored habitat areas and ladder entrance.

COVID protocols
• Maintain social distancing throughout the tour
• Masks outdoors are your preference

Image from Wikipedia Commons at

green tree near green plants

ECOS Field Trips!

Field Trip to Habitat Restoration Project at Ancil Hoffman – October 16

Please join ECOS on the first of a series of field trips to natural areas in the Sacramento Area. We will be viewing the newly created salmon and steelhead spawning and rearing beds along the American River in Ancil Hoffman Park. This habitat restoration project was initiated through efforts by the Water Forum and others.

When: Saturday, October 16 at 1 PM
Where: the Effie Yeaw Nature Center, 2850 San Lorenzo Way, Carmichael (and located inside Ancil Hoffman Park)

This tour, led by Center naturalists, has room for up to 15 more people (first come, first served). Call the Effie Yeaw Nature Center at 916-489-4918 to add your name and reserve your spot! Tell them you are with ECOS!

You will be walking on sand and gravel trails to the river so wear protective shoes or boots for this purpose and …. also, please bring and wear a mask — we are protecting each other as well as nature. Thank you!

This is the first of what we hope to be regularly scheduled field trips that will honor our open and natural habitat spaces around the Sacramento Region and celebrate much of the hard work of ECOS’ Habitat 2020 Committee. This trip, and the ones to follow, are for the purpose of educating ourselves and furthering our work in preserving and protecting these special places for wildlife protection and biodiversity.

For more information: