“Kachemak Crane Watch Depends on Citizen Science:” Homer’s Crane Count Begins Saturday

It’s time to count cranes again in Homer.

Homer’s crane count begins Saturday, and the event, hosted by Kachemak Crane Watch, needs residents to help spot the large, long-legged birds.

“Kachemak Crane Watch relies on citizen science to do what it does,” said Nina Faust, co-founder of the project.

The bird count event has been held annually for about five years to get up-to-date local data on the once-threatened species.

During the last two Saturdays in August and through early September, organizers are asking Homerites to keep track of how many sandhill cranes they spot and report these numbers before the birds migrate south along the Pacific Flyway to central California for the winter.

Faust said it’s important to count the cranes to get updated numbers for the area.

The subspecies that touches Homer, and that residents will count on Saturday, is called the lesser sandhill crane. The birds leave California each spring, flying along the Pacific coast. Some of them, Faust said, are headed for the Alaska Peninsula and places further up in western Alaska.

But there is also a contingent that descends on the Homer area and returns to the same spot year after year to nest and hatch their chicks, known as colts.

“The cranes arrive in Homer in mid-April,” he said. “That’s what heralds the start of spring for a lot of people.”

And in early fall, when the foals have strengthened their wings, the birds prepare to return to California.

Faust described the impressive birds as “elegant” and “intelligent,” nearly three feet tall, with a six-foot wingspan and a bright red forehead.

Faust is a self-described “craniak” who has been tracking the local population for over two decades.

“I think cranes are amazing creatures,” he said. “And I think a lot of people agree with me. There are a lot of ‘crainiaks’ in the community who love these birds.”

While sandhill cranes were once threatened, due to overhunting and wetland drainage during European settlement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, researchers say numbers now appear to be they have stabilized, and they know it because of the crane count.

The crane count is also important for other reasons, said Anne Lacy, senior director of North American programs for the Wisconsin-based International Crane Foundation.

He said that by taking annual counts of anything, whether it’s plants, animals or insects, researchers can start to notice trends. And while population ups and downs are natural, he said tracking something like a steady decline in numbers could help them avoid a catastrophe before it happens.

“With [species] like cranes, they are easy to count. They are big, they are strong and they are visible. And so we can get an idea of ​​how their population is growing or not,” Lacy said.

He said learning more about the health of the whooping crane population also helps scientists understand how healthy the surrounding wetlands can be.

“So if the whooping crane population is doing well, that means our wetlands are doing well, they’re nesting and the wetland is supporting them,” he said.

These days, Faust believes there are at least 300 to 400 lesser sandhill cranes in the greater Homer area. But, he said, that’s likely an understatement.

“The trends look to me, from what I’ve seen over the years, that our population is at least stable, but I think it’s actually increasing,” he said.

Faust said Kachemak Crane Watch would like to hear about specific crane sightings in the Homer area for the next three Saturdays: Aug. 20, Aug. 27 and Sept. 3.

You can report the number of adults, foals or banded cranes seen by location, time and day, along with your name and contact information, by emailing Faust at [email protected]or by calling her at (907) 235-6262.

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