Just One More

Sandhill Cranes,  like many larger birds breeding in Alaska, face the harsh arithmetic of the brief, sub-Arctic summer. After arrival, and building a nest, they lay the eggs and then have to meet a rigorous schedule.

30 days Incubate the eggs
60-75 days Young grow from new hatchlings to first flight
8-10 days First flight to migration-ready
98-115 days Total to successfully raise kids

If you are held in Delta Junction up by a cold, late spring, it can be very, very tough to fit that 98-115 days calendar in before winter starts.

The Cranes were indeed held up in Delta Junction this spring. Tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes hunkered down in the agricultural fields southeast of Delta, waiting for snow to melt,  and the long series of spring storms to end.

Part  of Very Large Sandhill Crane Flock, Delta, May 11

Part of Very Large Sandhill Crane Flock, Delta, May 11

All of which got them to their breeding territories late. How late depends upon where they breed. Some of the Cranes in Delta breed in the Russian Far East, a week or more away, even for a comparatively quick-moving migrant.

Sandhill Cranes, Spooked by a Bald Eagle, May 12

Sandhill Cranes, Spooked by a Bald Eagle, May 12

Those birds may not have bred this year at all. It will be interesting to see the Crane censuses.

But the Interior Alaska birds managed to squeeze in the whole reproduction cycle.

Sandhill Crane Colt, Creamer's Refuge, August 27

Sandhill Crane Colt, Creamer’s Refuge, August 27

This handsome young colt is almost ready for the long flight to the southwestern U.S.  His parents, one of them foraging just behind him,  managed to bring it all off. On May 11, the breeding pair were likely still in Delta. On August 27, 2013, just 108 days later, their kid is nearly ready for migration. In fact, two days later, the family joined the majority of the birds heading south.

For WC, the departure of the Sandhill Cranes is the real sign of the coming winter.  There’s always a certain wistful sadness. But this year, there’s also a sense of triumph. In the face of an unforgiving nature and a grievously late spring,  some of the Sandhill Cranes triumphed. A thought to hold to our hearts as the nights get longer and colder.


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