Sandhill Cranes Arrived Early This Year, Study Concludes

Marcia Lynn


     Kachemak Crane Watch recently issued a report on Sandhill Crane activity in the Homer area during the 2012 season.   Crane Watch says despite the late spring and near record winter snowfall, Homer’s Sandhill Cranes arrived slightly earlier than last year.  
     This year the first crane sighting was reported on April 11th.  The first reported arrival date for 2011 was April 21st.   By April 18th of this year a flock of more than 100 cranes was seen in the Beluga Slough area.
     This past summer cranes frequented many of their usual spots like Morning Star Road, two miles out East End Road as well as another area 14 miles out East End.  They were also seen on Diamond Ridge and West Hill roads, in the North Fork area and at Crane Watch headquarters at Inspiration Ridge Preserve on Skyline Drive.
     This was the second year of a three year study on Sandhill Crane Nesting Ecology that will eventually include an online atlas and observation database.  This year nesting crane pairs laid their eggs between May 5th and May 27th.  Crane Watch reports 35 known pairs in the Homer/Anchor Point area, but that only 28 crane pairs are known to have nested in 2012.  Of those, only 19 had a successful nest, meaning at least one egg hatched.  Thirty-three crane babies, known as colts were born, while 39 colts hatched in 2011.  The report says the lower reproductive success may be weather related, due to the heavy winter snowfall and relatively cool summer.
     On May 31st a mated crane died in one of Homer’s residential neighborhoods after being shot by someone using a bow and arrow.  Troopers have not yet found the person who killed the crane according to the report.  A citizen science project to assess the number of cranes in the area was done this summer, and it puts the total crane population estimate at 178.
     Once again, migration took place on several different dates from early through mid-September, with the last report of a migrating flock received on September 17th.  The cranes make a 2,400 mile trip down to central California where they spend the winter.