Around 10 o’clock I headed off to Lodi for the Sandhill Crane Festival “Raptors by Boat” excursion. Because I’d never been there before I wasn’t sure how long the trip would really take or if I’d be able to find the place, so I gave myself a little less than 2 hours: 1 hour for the drive, 20 minutes to get lost, find the place and find a place to park, then another 20 minutes to find the check-in station and wait in line for the tour to start. Well I didn’t get lost – which is a plus – and although parking was a bitch, I did manage to find a nearby side street to park on, so I had about 30 minutes to kill before standing in line. The “festival” was really a much smaller event than I was anticipating. It consisted of the tours and classes at the Lodi town hall center, and a small room full of vendors. There was only one sign outside of the building announcing that the festival was taking place there.
As I was walking up to the front door of the hall lobby, I saw a lot of Western Bluebirds in the trees, along with some Dark Eyed Juncos. Inside the doors was a big checklist of the birds and critters people could see on the tour, so I checked off the two bird species I saw before I even got in the door. The vendors were mostly from surrounding conservation groups and local artists (some of whom did spectacular work). I wanted to buy some things, but didn’t have the funds for them this weekend. (I get paid next weekend. Sigh.) The rooms being used for the festival were directly adjacent to an art gallery, too, so I peeked in there.
When it came time for everyone to line up and check in for the tour, we were all handed a map and told we were going to drive out to the boat at the Pardee Reservoir ourselves—there was no van or bus to take us. I knew it was going to take at 2 hours for the round trip and about 3 hours for the boat tour – which meant we wouldn’t get back to Lodi until after dark. There was no way I was going to drive out to the middle of nowhere and then try to find my way back in the dark, so I told the group leader I was going to need a ride. A 30-ish couple, Ramona and her hubby Rick, said they would drive me. ((If they hadn’t offered, I wouldn’t have gone on the trip. I don’t like driving out to the middle of nowhere by myself, when I’m not sure where I’m going. And I hate driving in the dark. The festival needs to TELL people things like this in advance, or charge an extra $20 a head to pay for van rentals.))
The drive took us up into the foothills well outside of Lodi, through some little “hick towns” and past the giant Cherokee Reservoir to the smaller Pardee Reservoir (which is still pretty big). Ramona and Rick were quiet but good natured people, so the drive was nice. They both has a gentle quirky sense of humor, and got excited about things like the retro 1950’s-looking McDonald’s in town and the cows in the pastures along the road. They called the calves “cow kittens” Hah!
To thank them for being my chauffeur, I told them that I would pay to fill up their gas tank for their trip back home if they’d let me; they were very grateful for that. Ramona was excellent at following the directions to the reservoir so we got there in the middle of the pack of cars. ((You’d think, too, that the festival people would supply 2 vans for transport, rather than causing a huge waste of gasoline and impacting the environment with the trammeling and exhaust of the 10 cars they made drive out to the reservoir.)) On our way we saw a dead deer on the side of the road with a big Turkey Vulture sitting on top of it. It went by too fast for me to get a photo (and on the way back, it was dark, so we missed that opportunity.)
Anyway, at the Pardee Reservoir – which is closed to the public during this time of the year – we waited at the gate for the tour leader, a ranger named Charles, a handsome 30-ish bald man with a sweet disposition. He even brought homemade cookies for us to snack on. He opened up the gates for us, and then escorted us down to where the boat launch was. The water level in the reservoir was unusually low (only at 60% of capacity instead of its normal 90%) because all of the cold water from the bottom of the reservoir had been drained off into the Cherokee Reservoir to attract spawning trout and salmon. So, we had to walk down the bank a distance and climb onto the boat – a 2 pontoon houseboat piloted by another young handsome man named Matt.
As I said, I’d never been to this place before, and I was immediately struck by the eerie beauty of all of the exposed rock formations. The reservoir was dug out of hillsides that are predominantly slate and the sheet of slate were stacked up at all angles along the shore like decks of cards. In some areas, stands of the shale were bleached white and looked like alien dinosaur bones. The place would be great for fossil-hunting expeditions, I’m sure.
The first and last parts of the boating tour were pretty much BOR-ING, but the middle part of it was awesome and made up for that. Matt drove the boat into a large alcove (where he almost grounded us on a sand shoal) and there we saw some hawks, Common Mergansers, Grebes, Canada Geese, Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles, deer, river otters, and other small shorebirds. The Bald Eagles were all first through third year birds, so they didn’t have their white heads yet. (They get the white head when they’re about 4 years old.) They flew back and forth over the boat, landing on trees or rocks on the shoreline and posed for us. It was funny to be on a boat during this because people would all rush to one side to photograph the birds from there – and the boat would tip that way – and then the people would all run to the other side of the boat to see something else – and the boat would tip to that way. Lots of “rocking the boat” on this trip which made photo-taking a little difficult at times. No one got seasick, though; I think that was because the boat was so open and the shoreline was always in site… I tried to stay in a center area as much as I could, and shot photos through and around people; although I DID venture to the railing on occasion, especially when someone spotted the otters.
What was funny, too… Remember how I’ve been telling you in earlier posts that I’m having trouble getting photos of Belted Kingfishers? Well, EVERYONE of this boating trip said they were having the same problem. The birds seldom sit still long enough for you to get any shots of them. As we were going along the shore of the reservoir, we spotted about 6 Belted Kingfishers, and as soon as we focused or cameras on them, they took off. It became kind of a game. Everyone laughed about it.
Even though we didn’t do any real walking or hiking, the drive and all of the fresh air had us all yawning on the way back to the boat launch area. There was a Loon in the water there, but like the Kingfisher, he wasn’t cooperating for photos and would dive down every time someone tried to snap his picture. We all disembarked on the shore, and thanked Charles and Matt, and then everyone headed home. Ramona and Rick drove me back to the festival hall in Lodi and stayed for a little bit to see if any of the vendors were still around. I walked to my car and headed home – in the dark. I got lost a couple of times, but realized my missteps right after I made them, so I was able to get back on track. I got home around 7:00 pm. Phew! A long day… but I really enjoyed seeing the eagles.