A doe is mirrored by her reflection as she forages in the pond. (Courtesy Photo | Pam Bergeson)

A doe is mirrored by her reflection as she forages in the pond. (Courtesy Photo | Pam Bergeson)

In search of cranes

Our boots rustled noisily through the tall sedges and sweetgale shrubs as we wended our way into the wetland. When we stopped to listen, we heard some low muttering and growling sounds from the far side of a strip of trees. Then, way off to the right and behind some clusters of pines, we heard yelps and a few yodels. The sandhill cranes were here, and talking.

We waited. After many minutes (or so it seemed), the yodels became many and clamorous. And presently, a small flock rose from behind the pines and took off southward, still calling as they disappeared in the distance. Then another small group lifted off and followed, calling all the way.

The next day, it got even better. As we strolled off a beach where we’d inspected wolf, bear, and crane tracks and watched pectoral sandpipers foraging, a bigger flock of almost 200 birds came up from the wetland, heading directly south. We received a goodbye salute from the cranes as a smaller flock circled over us several times, before heading south.

We’d come to Gustavus in hopes of seeing these sandhill cranes, and the mission was happily successful. The cranes come through Gustavus every fall, from their nesting areas in northern bogs and meadows, but exactly when and how long they stay and how many there are at any time is quite variable, so we felt quite fortunate.

But there was much more to come.

The comfortable place we stayed in had a nice deck from which we had a view of the lower reaches of the Salmon River. We sat out there for morning and afternoon tea, watching kingfishers fly in and juncos fossick in the bushes. Every so often a glossy black bear calmly strode by, ignoring us entirely, intent upon reaching the river and the up-migrating coho.

We took a walk, stopping at a forest pond. On the far side of the pond stood a sleek, beautiful doe, still decked out in her reddish summer coat. She foraged along the edge of the pond, occasionally stumbling in deep holes, nibbling a bit of buckbean, but concentrating apparently on some small willows and underwater greenery. She was watchful, frequently lifting her head with her big grey ears swiveling. Deer are less common than moose over by Glacier Bay, so this elegant lady was a treat.

Thanks to our unusually clear September weather, all the mountains on Chichagof and to the west of the Bay stood out clearly against the sky. For the very first time, I saw Mt. Fairweather in all its splendor, impressive even though it was over 60 miles away. On our last day over there, she collected a small cloud around her peak, but the rest of the jagged range stood clear. One evening we went down to the beach by the dock for the sunset, outlining the mountain ranges in shades of soft orange and pink and gold.

This fall in Juneau, I had to work moderately hard to collect a good harvest of high bush cranberries for making the annual batches of savory ketchup. In Gustavus, it was a different story! Great clumps of translucent red berries festooned the bushes. I think my friends tired of hearing me, “Ooh” and “Aah,” saying, “Oh, just look at that!” So eventually they all pitched in and helped me gather enough for a good batch of ketchup. With much willpower, I bypassed all the rest of the laden bushes that we saw.

There were lots of smaller treats during this visit: a ruby-crowned kinglet singing (usually a sign of spring), sea rocket seeds piled up in wolf footprints on the beach, waves of Canada geese overhead, a female harrier coursing over a meadow, some late-flowering grass of Parnassus and marsh felwort, a bear scat full of rose seeds from a meal entirely of rose hips, open pods of ladies-tress orchids shedding clouds of dust-like seeds (lacking any stored nutrition, they depend on hitching up with a fungus to germinate and grow).

To top it all off, there was a so-tasty dinner of freshly caught coho, garden veggies, and a delectable and spectacular red huckleberry pie! We’d picked those berries the previous day. The only thing better than all of that was the fine companionship, to be savored for a long time.


• Mary F. Willson is a retired professor of ecology. Her essays can be found online at www.onthetrailsjuneau.wordpress.com


A doe in her summer coat forages at the edge of a forest pond. (Courtesy Photo | Pam Bergeson)

A doe in her summer coat forages at the edge of a forest pond. (Courtesy Photo | Pam Bergeson)

More in News

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. On Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, the top U.S. public health agency said that coronavirus can spread greater distances through the air than 6 feet, particularly in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces. But agency officials continued to say such spread is uncommon, and current social distancing guidelines still make sense. (NIAID-RML via AP)
COVID at a glance for Thursday, Jan. 21

The most recent state and local numbers.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy addresses the public during a virtual town hall on Sept. 15, 2020 in Alaska. ( Courtesy Photo / Austin McDaniel, Office of the Governor)
Dunleavy pitches dividend change amid legislative splits

No clear direction has emerged from lawmakers.

Joar Leifseth Ulsom, right, wearing a bib with ExxonMobil lettering on it, congratulates Peter Kaiser on his win in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska. The world’s most famous sled dog race has lost another major sponsor as the Iditarod prepares for a scaled-back version of this year’s race because of the pandemic, officials said Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. ExxonMobil confirmed to The Associated Press that the oil giant will drop its sponsorship of the race. (Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News)
ExxonMobil becomes latest sponsor to sever Iditarod ties

The world’s most famous sled dog race has lost another major sponsor.

Has it always been a police car? (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Friday, Jan. 22, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient.	(THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/National Institutes of Health)
State reports 24 COVID-19 deaths

Only 1 of the deaths happened recently, according to the state.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. On Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, the top U.S. public health agency said that coronavirus can spread greater distances through the air than 6 feet, particularly in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces. But agency officials continued to say such spread is uncommon, and current social distancing guidelines still make sense. (NIAID-RML via AP)
COVID at a glance for Wednesday, Jan. 20

The most recent state and local numbers.

Sarah Palmer talks to a driver before administering a COVID-19 test in December 2020. On Tuesday, the City and Borough of Juneau reported an uptick in cases identified over the weekend that included Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  However, the community's COVID risk level remains at the moderate level, which was set last week after months with the community risk level set at high. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
COVID-19 cases tick up over holiday weekend

Two CBJ employees among those testing positive

Marine veteran Marvin Kadake, right, of the Keex’ Kwaan Dancers (People of Kake) shakes hands with Ed Kunz during the Grand Entrance for Celebration 2018 along Willoughby Avenue on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. The 2020 version of the every-other-year event had been tentatively scheduled for this summer, but those plans have been canceled, organizers announced. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Celebration 2021 canceled, organizers announce

It’s the second pandemic-related scheduling change for the event.

Most Read