Sandhill Crane photos

Winged Migration

Standing 3-5 feet tall and with a wingspan 5½ -8 feet, Sandhill Cranes gain great heights by obtaining lift in the thermals. Once in flight they expend very little energy only flapping their wings occasionally to enable them to stay aloft for many hours. This spring, a migrating flock rested and refueled at the Dale Saunders Crane Sanctuary before continuing north. Here's Dale's story below:

Dale Saunders was a simple barley farmer who lived by himself in Alaska's Susitna Valley. With a view of majestic Mount Denali from his farm, his home was a tiny log cabin that he built himself in 1957.

He didn't have running water – only an outhouse!  His life was in tune with the seasons: spring, summer, and fall followed the cycle of plowing, planting, weeding, and harvesting.

His farm was a "snack stop" for many Sandhill cranes making their journey each spring to their breeding grounds, and their migration back in the fall. They loved the leftover barley and peaceful sanctuary of the farm, and Dale loved them like family.  For over 40 years, Dale planted barley and waited for the cranes to visit.

One day, Dale got sick. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and told he could no longer keep farming. His dying wish was for Great Land Trust to take care of his farm forever and continue to plant barley every year for his cranes.

The Dale Saunders Crane Sanctuary will always be a home the cranes can return to. Next time you see a Sandhill Crane, think of Dale.

First panorama: Shows the spectacular view of the Alaska Range beyond Dale's barley field.  Counted within this image nibbling throughout the field are 224 Sandhill Cranes. This was only a partial count of the entire flock as there were countless more calling from within the surrounding forests, ponds, and distant fields.

Second panorama: The flock explodes into the air for some reason … no raptors were seen in the area.  Mt. Foraker looms massive in the distance.

Third panorama: The flock disperses across the field lighting down in other parts and flying smoothly in front of Denali.

Fourth panorama: A trio split off the main flock deciding to move on to another area.

All images © Dave Parkhurst