Point of View: Protect Beluga Slough and its incredible sandhill crane viewing

As co-founder and lead educator for Kachemak Crane Watch, I enjoy writing articles and producing films for public education about sandhill crane behavior; facilitate citizen science to keep track of crane abundance, distribution, and nesting success; and promote an appreciation and understanding of how people can protect cranes and their habitat. What we do to protect cranes benefits all wildlife.

A frequent and problematic event for cranes utilizing Beluga Slough is people venturing into Beluga Slough during crane nesting season. Of great concern is people allowing their dogs off leash to roam the Slough. This disturbance may cause a nesting failure or worse the death of a crane or flightless chick. We are fortunate that three pairs of sandhill cranes have each season raised colts in portions of Beluga Slough. Beluga Slough is an important estuary, with rich, abundant food resources for cranes and migrating and resident breeding birds. Numerous predators, such as bald eagles and coyotes, present dangers for the cranes and their young, but natural predators are part of living wild. A dog running loose is a disturbance and threat that can be avoided.

The boardwalk and the gravel trail leading to a picnic table have many viewing places for photographing and observing the beauty of the Slough, its rich diversity of birds, and for enjoying sandhill crane behavior. Homer is one of few places in the country where close observation of a crane family’s courtship, mating, dancing, foraging, preening, and feeding chicks is possible. Here, visitors can observe the whole crane life cycle, a “window on cranes.” Viewing cranes from these trails, offers a priceless wildlife viewing opportunity.

Walking these trails and the inner beach area, I often am a “roving naturalist” and “crane ambassador” and enjoy visiting and greeting visitors and inform them about crane ecology. Many visitors tell me that they came to Homer specifically to observe and photograph the cranes and are delighted to see a chick (colt). That chick is there because it is protected.

We can help cranes succeed in raising their young by staying on the gravel trail, boardwalk, and the inner beach berm. If people and pets are predictable (not within the habitat), cranes do not have to worry about people as predators. The reward is seeing cranes in the wild and taking home wonderful memories. If not disturbed, then cranes can attend to feeding and caring for their flightless young and watching for wild predators. It’s a simple and ethical thing to stay out of their habitat and let the cranes use their home safely.

Give cranes and other nesting birds a break and enjoy this incredible wildlife viewing opportunity.

Nina Faust is a Co-Founder of Kachemak Crane Watch and retired high school teacher. An avid hiker, self-taught naturalist, photographer, and conservation activist, Nina has spent more than a decade filming Homer’s Sandhill Cranes capturing a wide variety of crane behaviors on film.