Situated at 56° North Latitude (similar to Moscow, Edinburgh, southern Sweden and the Kamchatka Peninsula), we don’t have many resident birds. Thus, the springtime arrival of nesters is met with great anticipation each year. The entire village listens for the songs of early arriving Fox Sparrows followed by swallows, Wilson’s and Orange-crowned Warblers, Hermit and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, the eerie eventing-time winnowing of Wilson’s Snipe, the nighttime cacophony of migrating flocks of Cackling Geese and Brandt, piping Bald Eagles and the ratchety trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes. Standing close to four feet tall (nearly 120 cm) and with a wingspan of almost six-and-a-half feet (just less than two meters), the latter are extraordinary birds. Encountering a pair of adult cranes on a hike makes for a memorable outing.
It’s not just their physical stature that draws attention. Their brassy calls – repeated back and forth by flying pairs or given in answer to other cranes as they go about the business of establishing nesting territory – momentarily dominate the landscape. Even when the birds are secreted away unseen in some distant berry bog or patch of tundra, a frequent springtime query among residents at The Lake is “Did you hear the cranes?” In late summer or early fall, one of the most joyful sights we encounter is a trio of them flying high, heading south, the third bird a little smaller, a little drabber in color than the other two – a new member of the Sandhill community, evidence of a successful breeding season.
Barbra and I had hiked half-a-mile beyond the village to a place we call The Berry Bog . The date was May 22, 2019. It’s a good time of year to check the bog for violets and other wildflowers, nesting snipe and Savanah Sparrows, and signs of early emerging Brown Bears as well as the tracks of foxes, wolves, moose and cranes. We never expect to see these magnificent birds. They’re wary. But it’s a thrill when we do. (Nikon D850, Nikkor 600mm f/4 with 2.0 TC for a focal length of 1200mm, 1/3200 at F10, ISO 1250)
If you’d like to learn more about Chignik Lake’s cranes – and watch a short video featuring the incredible music they make – see: Birds of Chignik Lake: Sandhill Cranes – Wild, Resounding Tremolo