Cranes and Raptors

I headed out early, with Great Gray and Grasshopper Sparrow.  Our destination was Woodbridge Road just north of the town of Lodi. This road is well known amongst birders as a great place to see wintering sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis).

We made good time, traffic was light on a Saturday morning and after two hours of travel, we pulled off Highway 5 and headed along a frontage road until we came to Woodbridge Road. Our destination was the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve (Isenberg Crane Reserve), two units, north and south of Woodbridge Road, preserving 353 acres of sandhill crane habitat.

To the right was the North Unit and we pulled into the dirt parking lot and there were cranes in the fields as far as the eye could see and cranes in the air coming and going, their loud bugling calls filling our ears. This was a life bird for young Grasshopper (as many of the birds on this trip were).

IMG_7748I had been to Woodbridge Road a handful of times and there seemed to be more cranes around on this visit than in any other previous visit. The last time I was here, I was looking for the sulky, vagrant the brown thrasher, which I successfully added to my ABA lifelist on December 8, 2018.

After getting our fill of cranes (can you ever get your fill of cranes?) and doing a few field sketches,  we had an ever more amazing crane experience at the south unit. Across the road from the parking lot, in a green field, were perhaps a thousand sandhill cranes. A farm truck drove along the border of the field causing a mass of cranes to lift into the air. What an incredible sight! Hundreds of cranes in the air, their bugling calls, reaching us across the road.


We were surrounded by birds in all directions, thousands of ducks and coots to our south (and two tundra swans, another lifer for Grasshopper), cracking geese flying overhead in stretched out “V”s, and sandhill cranes everywhere!

We left the Reserve and headed back to Highway 5 South and then headed west on Highway 12 toward Rio Vista. Our destination was the dirt roads and open fields known to birders, collectively, as “Robinson Road”. This area is also known as “Raptor Heaven”.

We headed north on McCloskey Road onward to where the pavement turns to dirt. As we approached the T junction with McCormack Road, I saw a raptor hovering above the field, north of the road. It’s white tailbase blazed bright, identifying itself!


We rushed out of the truck and headed to the field edge. I told Grasshopper that I would help him find the birds but I wanted him to identify them. We were now looking at a raptor that is never guaranteed at Robinson. I have whiffed on this species many times but McCormick Road had always produced for me. When the hawk wheeled around showing it’s dark belly and carpal patches, Grasshopper said, “Rough-legged hawk!” And he was correct!

At the intersection of Robinson and Flannery Roads, Grasshopper spotted a large raptor on the ground. The bird flew up and we watched our largest hawk, the ferruginous hawk, ride the thermals with an adult red-tail.

Our best sighting of the trip was further down Robinson Road. I saw a large raptor perched near the top of the power tower to our right. We drove a little further down the road so we could get a better view of the raptor. I got the scope on the bird and asked if Grasshopper could identify it. He looked through the scope and after a short time proclaimed, “Golden eagle!”

We got great scope looks of the eagle before it to flew west across the road and caught  a thermal above the fields. It was soon joined by two other raptors that harassed the large eagle by dive bombing the golden from above. The eagle’s assailants where a ferruginous hawk and a prairie falcon! This was certainly a first and an amazing thing to witness. A golden eagle, ferruginous hawk, and prairie falcon, all in one scope view!

Grasshopper Sparrow’s spread of our fantastic day with sandhill cranes!


Robinson Raptors

It was again time for our annual trip to the winter raptor hotspot known as Robinson Road in Solano County.

I also used this trip as a field test for my new camera. As a reformed professional photographer, I have been used to top end, professional gear. This gear is very expensive and heavy and cumbersome. Instead I opted for a “bridge” camera, that is a camera between a point-and-shoot and a professional set up. I wanted a camera that was light, took quality images, and had the capacity to zoom into my far away subjects. I settled on the Canon Powershot SX60 HS. All photos in this post were taken with this camera and my sketches were also based on some of the photos.

The day started with valley fog but afforded views of a few hundred yards. Good enough to spot perched raptors but not good enough to get raptors up off the ground and into the sky, making identification a little easier.

On the first part of the journey we had seen the usual suspects: red-tailed hawk and American Kestrel. There was no sign of ferruginous or rough-legged hawk. It wasn’t until we paused at “Owl Corner” that things became interesting. I call the intersection of Flannery and Robinson Road “Owl Corner” because it is always reliable for this gem:

B OwlBurrowing owl is always a welcome sight at this intersection and this trip, again, proved to be fruitful.

After taking a few photographs with my new field camera (the above photo is an example), we headed off to look for other raptors on our target list.

It wasn’t long before I spotted a raptor on the ground in the pasture to the right. It was one of our target birds, Buteo regalis, the ferruginous hawk.

IMG_0062A typical view of our largest buteo hawk from Robinson Road. Perched on the ground.The zoom on my Canon Powershot SX60 was able to bring this far off raptor, a little closer for a diagnostic view of this wintering  hawk.

We drove the circuit but could not find mountain plover or any roughies. Mountain plovers looked like small clumps of dirt and could be very hard to detect. We did have a nice surprise as a Peregrine swept the landscape and alighted on a power pole. So I took a few pictures.

We left Robinson Road and headed towards Grizzly Island. Off to the left, perched on a ridge, was an unmistakable profile: golden eagle. Two, in fact.