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Sandhill Crane Vocalizations

Sandhill Cranes make a variety of calls, from purrs to hisses to bugles, with variations that require the context of what the cranes are doing to understand. For example, purrs are used in calling young, prior to flight or mating, or when the crane is nervous. Unison calls or guard calls are sometimes used to let other cranes know this is the pair’s territory or prior to or during flight flight, as well as in other circumstances. Vocalizations are complex and not fully understood. Enjoy these purrs and unison calls.

 

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By Nina Faust

This past February was Alaska’s warmest on record, with the past three months being 10.6 degrees above the long-term three-month average set 92 years ago. Flower bulbs are pushing up, pussy willows have been out since January, local fruit trees are blooming and sandhill cranes are here in Homer; nearly a month earlier than their usual arrival time of mid-April.

On March 9, Mary Sanders reported three cranes flying fairly low near Beluga Slough, just before 8 a.m. Two people reported on Facebook hearing cranes the day before. On March 10, Kachemak Crane Watch received a second call about a pair seen about five miles out East End Road. A report on March 13 confirmed that cranes are on the ground in Homer.

Sandhill Cranes settle in the wetlands near Sacramento for the night. Shallow marshes or flooded agricultural fields are important roosting areas in the Central Valley of California. Photo Credit: Jeanne Cunningham, Friends of Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

Homer’s sandhill cranes winter in California’s Central Valley near Sacramento, where a severe drought has made life difficult for cranes.

“We typically see a decline in crane numbers  around the middle of February, as do most other wetland and conservation area managers in the Central Valley and Delta,” said Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge Manager Bart McDermott. “It was unusually dry and warm here in February, and may have influenced some birds to start their migration a little early.

Some of Homer’s satellite-tagged birds have been sighted at Stone Lakes in the past.
The warm-water blob in the Pacific, as well as El Niño, have brought warmer-than-normal temperatures to all of Alaska — along with more rain than snow in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska.

Dr. Gary Ivey, western representative with the International Crane Foundation, told Kachemak Crane Watch, “I can only speculate that such an early arrival of sandhill cranes to the Homer area might be due to the record mild winter and the sparsity of snow at staging areas along the coast of Alaska; such as the Copper River and Stikine River deltas. Snow in these major crane migration stopovers likely would normally delay their movement north.”

So how will the early arrivals fare? That depends on the weather over the next several months.  The snow-free, lower benchlands around Homer have plenty of areas for cranes to forage and roost, but not so up on the ridge, where two or more feet of snow still lingers. March and April have been known to throw some wild weather at us before spring truly begins.

Kachemak Crane Watch is interested in reports of what these early arrivals do in the next month.  Where will they spend most of their time? What behaviors will they be performing: mating, painting, foraging, dancing? Normally, cranes begin nesting in early May. Will they start nesting in April instead? If successful, fledged colts will have a longer time to prepare for migration. If unsuccessful, a pair may have time to re-nest in May.

A mated pair unison calling in spring. Male on the right, female on the left. Photo Credit: Nina Faust, Kachemak Crane Watch

Citizen science is a big part of Kachemak Crane Watch’s ability to keep track of Homer’s sandhill cranes. Participation by interested crane-watchers helps us learn more about our local cranes so we can continue our ongoing education and conservation efforts.

Watch for early arrivals and take notes on what they are doing, where they are observed and —most importantly — if you see mating or nesting behavior. Report your information to Kachemak Crane Watch at reports@cranewatch.org or call 235-6262. Visit our website at www.cranewatch.org.

Kachemak Crane Watch is a project of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies.

Nina Faust is a member of the Kachemak Crane Watch, reports@cranewatch.org, 907-235-6262 www.cranewatch.org

First Cranes of 2016 Sighted!

Hi Everyone,

Today, March 9, 2016, Kachemak Crane Watch received the first report of Sandhill Cranes in the Homer area.  This is the earliest report we have received.  In the past we have had reports of a few flying high and probably heading north as early as the first week of April.  Reports of local cranes usually start coming in mid-April.

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An excited Mary Sanders called Kachemak Crane Watch to report three Sandhill Cranes flying over Beluga Slough and lake area this morning about 8 a.m.   The cranes were flying relatively low, which may mean they are local Homer cranes.  Please let us know if you see other cranes in the area. With changing weather patterns and reports of a bit earlier departure from Central California, the cranes may have made a fast migration.

Please send crane reports to reports@cranewatch.org or call 235-6262.  Spring is arriving early!

All the best,
Nina

2015–The Cranes Have Migrated!

IMG_4347It was a wonderful summer with lots of crane action around Homer and Anchor Point.  The cranes left on a classic departure day of rising barometer, west to northwest winds, and clearing skies, joining hundreds of cranes from the interior flying in Vs across Cook Inlet and over Anchor Point.

Most local cranes were reported migrating on September 12 when the waves of interior Alaska cranes came through Anchor Point.  A few family groups were still scattered about after the main group left, but by now, September 19, most all have departed.  Kachemak Crane Watch is receiving very few reports now.

Below, is a link for the Annual 2015 Sandhill Crane Summary for the Kachemak Bay area.

Summer 2015 Crane Report

Great Blue Heron among 90 Sandhill Cranes

Great Blue Herons are not common in Homer, Alaska. Even less common is a Great Blue Heron hanging out with ninety Lesser Sandhill Cranes. These cranes are gathering in premigration flocks, loading up on calories for the long migration back to Californina’s Central Valley near Sacramento. This heron just appeared within the flock early in the day and hung out with them for over an hour

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2015 Count Days–Citizen Science Effort Needs Your Help!

How many Sandhill Cranes make the Homer area their home during the breeding season?  Kachemak Crane Watch continues collecting data to monitor the numbers of local Lesser Sandhill Cranes.

“We keep track of Sandhill Cranes from Anchor Point south to the head of Kachemak Bay,” noted Nina Faust of Kachemak Crane Watch.

Kachemak Crane Watch is asking Homer residents and visitors to monitor the number of Sandhill Cranes being seen this summer.  Anytime on three designated days: : August 27, September 2, and September 8 between 6:00 am – 11:00 pm observers can report the following information:

* Number of cranes:  how many of each–adults, colts, and cranes marked with transmitters
* Date and Time
* Specific Location

Please leave your name and phone number for more details so Kachemak Crane Watch can contact you if needed.

“While this effort will not give us a precise number of cranes around Kachemak Bay, it will provide an estimated population count,” said Nina Faust, Kachemak Crane Watch co-founder.   “This is a chance for local residents to become citizen scientists, and also to more closely observe the cranes.  Observers will likely spot some of the family groups now that they have joined the larger flocks and are preparing for migration,” Faust noted.

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Sandhill Cranes usually leave the Homer area around mid-September to migrate to their wintering grounds in California’s Sacramento Valley.

Submit your data reports@cranewatch.org or by calling 235-6262.  
For more information contact: Nina Faust at 235-6262.

Click on the link below to download a Count Day form:

Count Day Report Form 2015

The Flocks are Restless

We are past mid-summer, and the non-breeding flocks are moving around more.  Watch for them around the Homer area.  The colts are fledging, and very soon families will join the non-breeding flocks.  If you see families with colts among these flocks, please let Kachemak IMG_6845Crane Watch know where you saw them, when, how many colts, and if you can distinguish them, how many families.  Send your report to reports@cranewatch.org or call 235-6262.  Be sure to leave a name and number in case we need further information.

Meanwhile, check out our latest video, “Flock Behavior,” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUOKB7bBxQo.

Report 2015 Fledged Sandhill Crane Colts

Hi Everyone,

Hopefully, the crane pairs many of you have been watching nearby in Homer have had a successful year raising their colts.  We interested in hearing reports of success or failure in nesting and if groups of cranes are starting to show up again.

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The Sandhill Crane colts are about to start flying in the next few weeks.  Please report fledged colts to Kachemak Crane Watch at 235-6262 or reports@cranewatch.org.  Please include location, date, time, number of colts, and a phone number for more information.

Enjoy the gorgeous weather!  Looking forward to hearing from everyone.
All the best,
Nina

Check out the Fuzzball video!

IMG_3014Sandhill Cranes nest in Homer Alaska in surrounding wildlands, local neighborhoods, and coastal estuaries. Two good places to look for a nesting pair are Lighthouse Village and Beluga Slough from the Boardwalk below the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. After 30 days of incubation, the eggs hatch the first or second week of June. They remain fuzzballs for only about a week to 10 days. They grow up quickly and will be as big as an adult and flying by 60-70 days after hatching.

Check out our new video, “Sandhill Crane Fuzzballs.”  The colts are growing so fast they have already passed the fuzzball stage, but you can enjoy them on video.  Fuzzball Video