For people like me who love nature, it's always interesting and fun to see the movement of a large number of animals. Last summer my wife and I had the chance to witness the fall migration of sandhill cranes, an opportunity we didn't want to miss out on.
Fairbanks has a waterfowl refuge on what was once a dairy farm (the largest dairy in Alaska) owned by a couple with the surname of Creamer, who worked it from 1938 until 1965. The farm is now on the Alaska and National Registry of Historic places.
The Creamers started feeding the migrating birds their spare and waste grain and, given all the open land around the farm, birds began to gather here in large numbers. Residents lobbied to preserve this space when the Creamers stopped dairying, so in 1969 the State of Alaska purchased 2000 acres of land around the farm to establish the Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. Besides bird-watching, the place offers miles of hiking trails and a small visitor center/gift shop in the old Farmhouse. In winter the land is used for dog mushing.
Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge gives birds a safe place to gather and feed before heading for the long flights south. While more than 100 species of birds and mammals can be found here, the farm is best known as a good place to observe sandhill cranes.
The gathering of thousands of sandhill cranes in the refuge is a sign that summer is almost over and that winter is not far off. It's quite a sight to see so many cranes in one place.
Sandhill cranes have a distinct rattling call and six-foot-wingspans, and they are easy to distinguish from the much smaller ducks and geese at the refuge. They resemble herons, but herons tend to be solitary birds while cranes like to form large flocks. Mated cranes stay together, probably for life. They live up to 20 years in the wild and longer in captivity. Remarkably, one sandhill crane lived 61 years in the National Zoo in Washington, DC.
At their peak, several thousand birds can be seen at the refuge. Fairbanks honors these birds with the annual Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival, which we were able to participate in. There were about 40 people on site when we visited, and some of the Fairbanks residents were complaining about how crowded it was. "Too many people here", we heard one guy say. Alaskans like a low population density, I guess.
The following videoclip gives you an idea of what these birds look and sound like when in flight.