AS THE SANDHILL cranes make their fall return to the wetlands of the San Joaquin Valley, the festival celebrating the migratory birds celebrated its 25th anniversary this past weekend.  

Presented by the Lodi Sandhill Crane Association and the City of Lodi, the annual Sandhill Crane Festival was a paradise for bird lovers and enthusiasts who got to spend their weekend learning about birds and especially the sandhills, make origami cranes, appreciate the artwork depicting the birds, purchase binoculars for their birdwatching tours and more.  

The festival annually attracts 900 to 1,000 attendees, said Nancy Nieland, a committee member organizing the festival. The festival consists of live art sessions, presentations about Sandhill cranes, over 20 booths of vendors and nonprofit organizations, art gallery and more. 

“This festival is to encourage people to come out to see the birds,” said Nieland. Free public tours were offered during the festival, and other tour opportunities are listed on the association’s website, but those who want to see the birds on their own can easily find them at various locations around the Delta between October and February.

Vendors and nonprofit organization set up booths during the Sandhill Crane Festival in Lodi on Nov. 4, 2023. (Harika Maddala/Pagransen/Catchlight Local)
Tristan Block (left) shows RJ McClain how to make an origami crane during the Sandhill Crane Festival in Lodi on Saturday. (Harika Maddala/Pagransen/Catchlight Local)
A flock of origami cranes made by volunteers sits on a table during the Sandhill Crane Festival in Lodi on Saturday. (Harika Maddala/Pagransen/Catchlight Local)

The cranes can be found at Staten Island, Cosumnes River Preserve wetlands, Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, Mokelumne River and along the Lodi Lake Nature Trail, among several sites across the county.

Harika Maddala is a photojournalist based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Pagransen and its nonprofit news site Pagransen. They are a Report for America corps member and a CatchLight Local Fellow.