April 22, 2013
Every spring, a major phenological event in Seward is the migration of the Sandhill Cranes (Grus Canadensis). In Seward the maritime weather can be sight limiting, therefore you usually hear the sandhills before you see them. This was the case on April 20th 2013.
On this mild spring Saturday I was searching out a route to a local valley glacier. The depth of the snowpack and pre-leaf out conditions meant that exploring new terrain was more manageable than a mid-summer muddy bushwack. For the first few hours of the trek I noticed the usual winter bird suspects. Small flocks of Common Redpolls (Carduelis flammea) and Pine Siskins (Carduelis pinus)bounced between the tree tops of the glacier valley. Their buzzy calls and flight songs of "chit-chit-suhweeeet" filled the air on several occasions. As a climbed a ridge I spotted a lone Spruce Grouse hen (Falcipennis Canadensis) in a mountain hemlock forest. Once on the ridge I heard the tell-tale cackling trumpets of a Sandhill Crane flock. Sure enough, within seconds, a large V shaped flock of about 30 individuals flew into view. I expected the birds to fly from the south with a northerly heading, only this group was flying in the southerly direction. Given the steep coastal fjord surrounding with thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean to the south, their choice of direction seemed strange. Maybe, like the human tourists passing through Kenai Fjords NP, this group of cranes just wanted to pass by the iconic Bear Glacier to check on its retreat rate. Regardless, their brief presence is a sure sign of spring and a foreshadowing of many birds to come.