Millie and Roy returned on May 8, 2013.
In a typical year, Millie and Roy return to their traditional nest territory in the last week of April. Upon arrival, they explore the brown marsh and dance on the bare ice of their pond. They usually start incubation in the first few days of May.
April 2013 was one of the coldest months of April on record in Fairbanks.
In 2013, Millie and Roy did not appear on their nest territory until May 8th, to find almost two feet of snow covering the landscape. Over the next week, temperatures varied between 30°F and 55°F during the day and fell to as low as 19°F during the night.
The rotating photos above show Millie and Roy wading through snow that brushes their breast feathers. They fed on small creatures in the meltwater pools, explored south-facing slopes where snow was disappearing, and danced in the icy slush. On May 10th, Roy started pulling on cattail stalks for ritualistic nest-building that he pursues each spring.
Welcome to the Christy Yuncker Photo Journal.
For millenia, the sonorous calls of Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) have echoed across Goldstream Valley in Interior Alaska. When we moved from Vermont to 40 acres of taiga in this valley, we found that cranes had staked prior claim to the cranberry bog which can be viewed on Google satellite images .
This website and the Alaska Sandhill Crane Blog grew from our multi-year acquaintance with the crane couple whom we know as Millie and Roy. Since 1999, we have documented their behavior from morning to sunset through their Alaska nesting season.
A summary for each year is available on this website.
Cranes are boisterous, statuesque, sometimes obvious, and often secretive. Year after year, a particular pair of cranes reappears in spring at its chosen nest site after heroic migrations that traverse natural barriers like the Himalayas or the Alaska Range and after evading man-made obstacles like electrical powerlines and shotguns.
On nest territories, cranes broadcast over miles by resonant bugling and interact at close distances by soft purring and acrobatic body language. Their elegant dancing, mate fidelity, and 20 year lifespans helped cranes become talismen for aboriginal peoples. The majesty of cranes inspired artistry in ancient and present-day civilizations - two examples are offered by hyperlinks to artists at the bottom of the right column of this webpage.
Crane-watching helps us replace 21st century hubris with quiet awe for the biological diversity that has evolved on this planet.
Although cranes have long been venerated, the intimate world of cranes remains largely cryptic. We hope to better understand:
- education of crane colts in the wild,
- social structure within breeding neighborhoods and flocks,
- information content of the signals that bind cranes to one another, and
- how they make decisions.
Please help us develop this photo website and its companion Blog into a general information resource for discussions of crane biology and conservation. If you will email us your own observations, we will post them on the web so others can ponder your insights and perhaps offer answers to your questions.
Thank you for taking time to make Nature an immediate part of your personal world view.
Please email us with your comments or questions.
Christy Yuncker and George Happ
All our photo galleries and blogposts are listed on the Sitemap.
- Crane Festivals
- Books on Cranes
- Crane Web Pages
- Alaska Sandhill Crane Blog
Do cranes use pheromones?
- How Birds Think Blog
Is dance learned?
- George Happ's website