Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The origins of the Alaska Sandhill Crane blog

This blog and the complementary webpage, Christy Yuncker Photo Journal, developed from our fascination with a pair of Sandhill Cranes who return each summer to Alaska. For the past several years, they have nested on a cranberry bog in Goldstream Valley, a few miles north of Fairbanks. Cranes are migratory, coming to Alaska only for the summer months. John Wright, a wildlife biologist for the state of Alaska, has tracked a banded crane from Fairbanks for 3100 miles, to stop-over sites on the Platte River in Nebraska and finally to a wintering site near Snyder, Texas.

We refer to our crane pair as Millie and Roy. Over 14 seasons, we have watched cranes arrive in late April/early May, court one another with calls and dances, mate and nest, feed and educate their colts (young cranes), communicate with neighboring cranes in the valley, and leave in early September for the long southward migration.


The summer season in Interior Alaska is barely long enough for the crane reproductive cycle. When the adults first drop from the sky to the surface of the bog, snow covers the grasses and cattails and the open pond is solid ice. As incubation starts in the second week of May, the ice gradually darkens and then melts during daylight but often reforms when darkness falls. The weeks pass quickly as the adults raise their colt(s) and teach motor and social skills. In most years, young colts first lift off the bog in mid-August and then must practice hard to become airworthy in time for migration at the end of the month.

We learn first-hand from watching, listening, photographing, recording, and then contemplating. When we tinker with Nature, we affect not only other species but also ourselves.

As you read this blog and look at our webpage, we hope that you will share your own observations and offer interpretations for all readers to consider.

Please post your comments directly on this blog, or email them to ghapp@uvm.edu. We are particularly interested in the education of the colts and in the cross-talk among cranes within a neighborhood. Our goal is a better appreciation of the "world view'" from a crane's perspective, with hopes that better cross-species understanding can promote crane welfare.

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