The California Delta

Recently I led four cruises in the California Delta. This is an area of about 700,00 acres where the Sacramento, San Joaquin and other rivers merge in a maze of islands, sloughs and channels. There are over fifty islands in the region, most are cultivated with pears, wheat, corn and many other crops. Millions of dollars are spent annually to maintain levees that protect and maintain these islands. Despite being one of the most altered landscapes in the country, the Delta is a rich area for wildlife, especially birds.

On our trips we saw about 75 species of birds. Certainly the most obvious were tens of thousands of Snow and White-fronted Geese that filled the sky. Raptors were abundant as well. It’s easy to ignore Red-tailed Hawks after one has already seen 25 or so. We did take more detailed looks at White-tailed Kite, Northern Harrier and an amazingly close Peregrine Falcon. The latter was perched on a channel marker affording us incredible eye level views of this magnificent predator. Hundreds of Sandhill Cranes were also enjoyed by the groups on board, included one, presumably male, who picked up a stick, offered it to its mate and then jumped, wings spread into the air. Although these birds do not breed locally they do start their courtship activities on the wintering grounds.

Close views of an American Bittern and a Great Horned Owl that chose an unlikely open post for a place to incubate her eggs were also avian highlights. Although we did not see beaver as we have in the past, a Coyote that kept pace with the boat on top of a nearby levee was a first for us.

A roughly six week dry spell, unusual for its length here in central California, came to an end the day after our last trip. We were blessed with spectacular calm, sunny weather to enjoy this special part of California. Although the Delta is within a couple hours drive of almost ten million people, the back roads crossing it are lightly used. However, the best way to fully experience it is by boat and our trips on the Delphinus afforded us such a unique experience.

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