Early Winter for Lake Tahoe 2012

Tom Stienstra at the SFGate Blog recently wrote an article entitled Bird migration forecasts early winter. The article was published on September 13, 2012. According to the early migration of this type of bird, we may see an early winter this year!

There’s a saying, “Birds never lie.”

If so, the best weather forecaster in the West, the migratory sandhill crane, is predicting an early winter with plenty of rain and snow.

Over the years, the timing of the migration of sandhill cranes south to the San Joaquin Valley has predicted winter weather, both wet and dry. Early migrations have meant big winters. Late migrations, the opposite.

“I think 2012 sets a record for earliest arrival,” said Gary Ivey, the International Crane Foundation’s Western Conversation Manager.

This fall’s verified migration started  August 25 when 10 sandhill cranes were sighted in northern San Joaquin County by a birdwatching group guided by Esther Milnes-Schmierer, a docent for the Department of Fish and Game. In past years, the giant sandhill cranes have first arrived in mid-September.

Many thought it was an anomaly. But the cranes have kept coming and are starting to pour into the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve and Consumnes River Preserve near Lodi, their annual wetland destinations of choice each fall.

Over the years, the sandhill cranes’ ability to predict weather seems uncanny.

In early winter, if a sub-flock of sandhill cranes breaks off from the main flock in the San Joaquin Valley and then fly south to Soda Lake in in the Carrizo Plain, you can expect a big winter of rain and snow. Last year, the cranes didn’t fly to Soda Lake and much of the winter turned out to be a drought.

In the spring, when they migrate north, they can predict the end of rain and arrival of summer to Northern California.

Last April, after a drought was followed by a wet early spring, I spotted a flock of nearly a hundred sandhill cranes migrating north up the Sacramento Valley. Sure enough: By the end of the week, summer weather had taken hold of Northern California for good. The rain was done.

The cranes wingspans span seven feet. At Woodbridge, the dusk sky can fill with them cruising overhead. Their cacophonous honks can carry for miles.

Most of the birds migrate from their summer nesting grounds in the Pacific Northwest, and as far away as the Arctic and Siberia, down to the San Joaquin Valley to Woodbridge, Staten Island and Consumnes River Ecological Reserve.

While weather was relatively dry this past summer in their northern breeding grounds, Ivey said, weather followers have noted a succession of storms this month to sweep through western Canada.

It could be just a start for what sweeps across the Western U.S. in the coming winter.


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