Nature Blog Network

Friday, July 10, 2009

Death, visitations, and dance of "solidarity"

---For July 2 photos on Christy Yuncker Photo Journal, click here.

On July 2, 2009, we were aroused at 7 AM by unison calling of Roy and Millie. 

Twin colts, Jacques and Phyl, had trailed their parents around our cranberry bog for almost three weeks since hatch on June 10th and 11th

When we glanced at Cattail Point on that morning of July 2, we saw only Jacques running back and forth between his parents, begging for food. The adults flapped their wings twice, peered down at a tawny mass half-hidden in the grass, preened, and shuffled around. After careful examination through a spotting scope, we saw that the object of their gaze was Phyl's motionless body. The photo to the left shows Millie looking down at Phyl.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Alaska Crane Kindergarten

---For photos on the Christy Yuncker Photo Journal webpage, click here.

Sandhill Crane colts are intensively tutored from day 1. For their parents, summer school teaching is a 24/7 job. The three core subjects (crane versions of the three R's) in Colt School are: Foraging, Display/Dance, and Flying, each of which addresses biological imperatives: nourishment, socialization, and migration. We think of the 14 days after hatching to be crane kindergarten, when the curriculum stresses Foraging first and Display/Dance next.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Return to nestsite and hatch of twin colts

---For photos on the Christy Yuncker Photo Journal webpage, click here.

Our 2009 spring snowfall was heavy; the Fairbanks cross-country ski season lasted into mid-April. Last year's grasses and cranberry bushes are poking above the shrinking snow cover on April 29 as a pair of sandhill cranes drops through the gentle light of early evening onto our Goldstream Valley pond. The signal skin atop their heads is turgid with blood; each bird sports a crimson helmet. They join in unison calls, his pulsating and hers a double note.

Roy dances at 11 PM in the fading light that renders him monochromatic. Dark, severe, silhouetted against the rough gray ice.  
He vocalizes as he spins - crouching, turning, wings outstretched, jumping, wings folded tight to his body, like an avian Baryshnikov dervish, whirling on an empty stage. Joy! Rapture! Triumph! Home again! Relief! 

We cannot document the neurological mechanisms driving this showy behavior, but we believe that it has physiological and subjective correlates akin to those of emotion. In our view, to dismiss emotion as a contributor and to dogmatically categorize such arousal as mere "displacement" is to ignore objective evidence.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Crane parents compensate for colt's injury

---For photos on the Christy Yuncker Photo Journal webpage, click here.

Each colt is an individual. If a colt is injured, adults can compensate and delay their migration - apparently waiting for the colt to become flight-competent. We saw such compensation in 2008.

By 18 days of age, Oblio-08 was running
about waving her tiny wings in tandem with Roy (pictured to the right). But in early July, she began to favor her right leg, suggesting an injury. Although she continued to grow, she was physically hampered. For some weeks Oblio rarely ran and did not dance, jump or bound.  Roy and Millie postponed the basics of colt education and physical conditioning an tarried in Alaska to give her a chance to catch up.

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.