Intrigued by an article in Bay Nature magazine about Tundra Swans, I took a chance on Saturday morning and drove 75 miles northeast to a place in the Delta called Staten Island — no relation to the New York City borough. Staten Island is a widely recognized model of wildlife friendly farming — sustainable farm management that supports the preservation and growth of wildlife habitat. So it says on the signs at roadside as you enter Staten Island Road from the north, the only entry point. I hadn’t driven 500 yards before I saw a flock of giant grey birds with red foreheads in a field to the right: Sandhill Cranes. The Staten Island site is famous as a wintering stop for migrating Sandhill Cranes; check out the Saving Cranes website. In the 4.5 miles of public road that you’re allowed to drive, I saw half a dozen flocks of these impressive birds, some as close as twenty yards from the road. Before going much further I had to stop for a Great Egret who was crossing the road as if it owned it. A mile past the entrance my ears took in the presence of Tundra Swans before my eyes did. There, off to the right, perhaps sixty yards off the road, a teeming pow-wow of hundreds of Tundra Swans held sway in a flooded field. Some dabbled, some slept, some flew in, some flew out, some preened, many seemed just to circulate and chat as if at a party. A mile further south, another flock of these birds, probably even more numerous, occupied another wetland further away. A buffet of lesser waterfowl — I saw Mallards, Wigeons, Scaup, Coots, and some I couldn’t identify at this distance — surrounded the big birds, along with egrets and herons. On my way back out, I saw a flock of hundreds of Canada Geese land in a field.
At the time of my visit, only one other car with birders shared Staten Island Road and its attractions with me. I’m surprised. This was an astonishing bird viewing experience, only an hour and a half from Berkeley.
I wonder if we could attract some Tundra Swans to the North Basin, next to our park. I don’t think we can draw Sandhill Cranes, because their chief interest seemed to be feeding on leftover grains in dry fields. But the cranes seemed to be wetland dabblers, basically overgrown ducks (I hope they won’t be offended!), who might find the North Basin just right as a winter stopover. Do we need to make decoys? Ideas, please.
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