part of wisdom never to revisit a wilderness, for the more
golden the lily, the more certain that someone has gilded it. To
return not only spoils a trip, but tarnishes a memory. It is
only in the mind that shining adventure remains forever bright.
For this reason, I have never gone back to the Delta of the
Colorado since my brother and I explored it, by canoe, in 1922
- Aldo Leopold, The Green Lagoons, A Sand County Almanac.
Friday, April 09, 2004
From March 31 to April 5 of 2004 I
participated in the tour “Retracing Aldo Leopold's Voyage of
Discovery" sponsored by the
Aldo Leopold Foundation. The tour was conducted by
La Ruta de Sonora. We were accompanied by Buddy Huffaker,
Jr., the Executive Director of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, and
Desert Program at the
Sonoran Institute, who hosted for La Ruta
Michael Giscombe, our birding guide.
We visited Yuma, Lake Mendoza, San
Luis Rio Colorado, Golfo de Santa Clara, the
Delta del Rio Colorado Biosphere Reserve and extensively
toured the Delta. We intended to visit La Ciénega de Santa Clara
wetland but were prevented from doing so because of torrential
rainstorms. The dirt road to La Ciénega turned to impassable
mud. From a lecture on the wetland I see great similarities with
the Zapata wetland in Cuba.
The Lower Delta of the Colorado
River is an amazing area. On our trip we counted 110 bird
species, many of them firsts for experienced life listers on our
tour. We did not see sandhill cranes. Aldo Leopold wrote about
circling cranes in his 1922 canoe trip in the same area we
visited. The last reported crane sighting in Baja California Norte
having no place names, we had to devise our own as went.
One lagoon we called the Rillito, and it is here that we saw
pearls in the sky. We were lying flat on our backs,
soaking up November sun, staring idly at a soaring buzzard
overhead. Far behind him, the sky suddenly exhibited a
rotating circle of white spots, alternately visible and
invisible. A faint bugle note soon told us they were cranes,
inspecting their Delta and finding it good. At the time I
my ornithology was homemade, and I was pleased to think them
whooping cranes, because they were so white. Doubtless
they were sandhill cranes, but it doesn't matter. What
matters is that we were sharing our wilderness with the wildest
of living foul. We and they had found a common home in the
remote vastness of space and time; we were both back in the
Pleistocene. Had we been able to, we would have bugled
back their greeting. Now, from the far reaches of the
years, I see them wheeling still. - Aldo Leopold, The Green
Lagoons, A Sand County Almanac.
Below San Luis and near the town of
Rillito is an abandoned village named
La Grulla. The link is a scan
of a 1936 map of the area. La Grulla is near the lower edge of the
aren't the cranes there today?
The green lagoons described by Aldo
Leopold had disappeared by 1975 due to upstream damning which
decreased the water flow and increased the levels of salinity
making the Delta all but disappear. In 1981, 1983-1988, 1993, and
1997-1999 there has been sufficient water released upstream to
have pulse flooding through the Delta to the sea. Since 1997, the
wetland marsh has made a revival due to mildly saline groundwater
from the Welton - Mohawk irrigation district being pumped into a
concrete canal where it flows 80 kilometers from near Gila Arizona
to Mexico where it flows into La Ciénega de Santa Clara.
La Ciénega now covers 12,500 hectors and is home of the
endangered Yuma Clapper Rail. See:
The surprise return of the Lower Colorado River Delta.
they be reintroduced?
I propose that the West Coast Crane
Working Group sponsor an investigation of the possibility of
reintroducing sandhill cranes to La Ciénega de Santa Clara. My
discussions with the managers of the La Ciénega indicate there is
suitable fresh water roosting habitat for sandhill cranes. There
is nearby agricultural land which could be converted to grain,
such as corn, as feeding areas for wintering cranes. The land is
owned by small family farmers or collectives and is not overly
profitable. A local farmer may earn $1500-$2000 per year from
their crops. Thus, local farmers may be amenable to being paid to
plant lure crops.
are they nearest wintering cranes?
The greater sandhill crane
population which winters along the Lower Colorado River Valley has
not received significant modern study. The
management plan for
these cranes was created by the
Pacific Flyway Council of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
in March 1983 and last revised in March 1995. The birds in this
population breed in northern Nevada. In 1988 it was estimated
that the total population was 1800 to 2000 cranes.
Greater sandhill cranes are listed
as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species
Act. A recovery plan has been under study in California since the
year 2000. The management plan includes the Lower Colorado River
National Wildlife Refuge is
located on the Arizona side of the
Colorado River north of Yuma. It is one of the major crane
population areas. Their web site indicates that as of November 24,
2003 there were1172 sandhill cranes at the reserve. The
literature indicates sandhill cranes arrive in the region in
October and depart in early February. Cibola is approximately 90
miles north of La Ciénega.
do we introduce wintering sandhill cranes at Cibola to La Ciénega?
Discussions with local authorities
indicate there is already cross border collaboration between
Mexico and United States regarding migrating endangered species.
There has been success in reintroducing the California condor to
Baja California in Mexico. There is a strong possibility
authorization and cooperation could be achieved regarding greater
New techniques for re-creating
migration routes for cranes have been developed in recent years.
Chicks have been introduced two new migration routes through the
use of light aircraft and hang gliders. A less expensive method
has also been used in the Rocky Mountain Flyway. Cranes chicks
are placed in containers in the rear of a pickup truck and driven
the southern migration route. Once having been introduced to the
migration route the cranes appear to naturally migrate north to
the breeding areas. I do not know if there is any possibility of
relocating yearling or adult cranes from wintering habitat to a
new habitat at a distance of 90 miles.
Yuma Arizona hosts a
Birding and Nature Festival each April. Cranes will have left
the Lower Colorado River Delta well before the bird festival.
However, the existence of the festival indicates substantial
winter birding interest in the area. Having tours from October
through February to see the threatened greater sandhill cranes and
the endangered Yuma Clapper Rail would provide added echo-tourism
economic stimulation to a poor area of Mexico.
Can the cranes
help save La Ciénega?
The lower Colorado Delta and La
Ciénega wetlands continue to be under threat of less and less
water. There is a possibility the
Central Arizona Project will close the Welton - Mohawk
irrigation canal robbing the wetland of the water it needs.
general manager of Arizona's largest water provider accused Gov.
Janet Napolitano on Thursday of ignoring critical Western water
issues, including one that could help the state recover billions
of gallons of water now going to Mexico.”
The existence of the Yuma Clapper
Rail in La Ciénega is one of the obstacles to these plans. Could
the cranes help?
As our group stood on the banks of
the Colorado River where Aldo Leopold canoed in 1922 during his
voyage of discovery and jointly read aloud the Green Lagoons essay
from his Sand County Almanac, the possibility of re-creating a
portion of the wildlife he experienced was inspiring.
Providing a freshwater wetland
habitat suitable for roosting cranes containing such natural crane
foods as crayfish and nearby lure crops hopefully will make the
area a heaven to wintering cranes. This is too good an opportunity
to pass by without further consideration.
Link to Comments