Visitors attending Cranes and Cocoa observe sandhill cranes returning to Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Saturday evening. Mark Wilson Photo
Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge hosted an event Saturday that allowed attendees to see and learn more about the migration of sandhill cranes to its habitat during the fall and winter.
For the second year, “Cranes and Cocoa” took place at the Skeen Visitors Center and gave people the chance to enjoy hot cocoa and cookies and see the cranes return to Bitter Lake.
“A lot of locals don’t even know we have all these cranes here,” said Steve Alvarez, outdoor recreation planner at the refuge. “It’s really cool to see.”
As recently as Oct. 24, the refuge saw more than 26,000 cranes fly in. Since then, the number has dropped to around 20,000.
Alvarez said he was worried that the day’s high winds would have discouraged attendee turnout, but was pleased to see that it hadn’t.
Wendy Taylor brought her 9-year-old son, Erik Mendiola. A Boy Scout, he and his troupe came out to see the migration “just for the fun of watching birds.”
Friends of Bitter Lake board member Jim Montgomery lectured on the migratory habits of the cranes during the event.
He said the cranes that visit Bitter Lake are lesser sandhill cranes that usually nest in western Alaska and Siberia. On average, they stand three feet tall with a wingspan of 5 feet. Unlike other cranes, the bird flies with its long neck extended.
Visitors drove out on the refuge to watch cranes fly in at sunset.