The Alaska Journal: Cranes

A big gaggle of geese just flew overhead, making the trek to northern nesting grounds. I estimated that perhaps sixty to seventy were in this particular vee.  They were honking and flapping, making quick progress across my slice of the sky.  It's always fun to see and hear them, and now that I have been to the far north, I can even picture where it is they might be landing when they make it to their summer home.

While we were in Alaska, we had the opportunity to watch a crane.  I didn't have my bird book with me, but I am fairly certain that it was a sandhill crane. On a trip in 2009, we saw hundreds of these magnificent birds in Nebraska.  They were in the midst of their spring migration, with their annual stopover along the Platte River. During the day, the cranes feed in the fields that line both the river and the freeway. It was amazing to watch them poking along, looking for whatever critters they eat, all the while hearing the traffic go by. We were staying at a campground outside of Kearney, and learned that if we were quiet and non-intrusive, we could view them from a short distance.  In the evening, they left the fields to roost at the river. When that is happening, the sky is filled with these birds, huge flocks, flying overhead. They squawk loudly when they fly. We had walked to a viewing area on the river, and it almost felt like pre-historic creatures were above us. I think that is because of their size, and the span of their wings.

It wasn't as dramatic in Alaska. I recognized the sound, and recalled those days in Nebraska. Robert and Amanda said that a pair often will land in the pond at the edge of their dog yard. The cranes are looking for frogs to eat.  We had been hearing the frogs, so I imagine the supply was good.  One afternoon, a lone crane was feeding, and it was either curious or brave. It kept moving closer to the dogs, perhaps for a better look. I was able to stand for several moments, snapping photos as it gracefully came along.  Robert told me that sometimes the birds become really obnoxious. One time last summer, a pair stood right outside of their cabin window, squawking away, in their strange, mechanical-like voices.  It was light out, but it happened to be the middle of the night. Robert and Amanda were not amused.

I like the idea that I have seen the stopover place, and the summer grounds for these birds. It's easy to picture them up in the tundra, nesting and raising the young.  Someday, I would like to see the winter retreat that the cranes inhabit. In the meantime, I'll keep an eye on our local skies, and at my birdfeeder, too. There is so much to see right here in my own backyard.