Posted by: kerryl29 | October 1, 2018

Alaska: Hidden Gem – Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge

When we were originally planning the itinerary for this trip, Ellen wisely suggested that we remain in Fairbanks for a full day upon arrival.  We flew into Fairbanks very late on August 23; it was after midnight when we headed to the hotel at which we were staying.  There were a number of things that had to be taken care of the following day so, rather than rush through them and then make a 2 1/2 hour drive to the Denali area the decision was made to defer the drive to Denali for one day.  That left plenty of time to find things to do in the Fairbanks area, weather permitting, on our first full day in Alaska.

The weather on this first full day was off-and-on–mostly on–rain.  After clearing out a series of errands, we made our way to Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, located in Fairbanks proper, only a few miles from where we were staying.  The refuge, at this time of the year, hosts a sandhill crane migration, so we thought it would be worth checking out.  Spotters on the ground at the refuge had counted nearly 1500 cranes the previous day (along with hundreds of geese), so our timing was good.

Sandhill Cranes in Flight, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

The weather…well, that wasn’t so good.  It was raining when we arrived at the refuge and it was a near constant presence as we made our way toward the trails.  Still, rain aside, we spent several hours observing and photographing the cranes, which we spotted in short order.  They were all over the place in flocks ranging from a few birds to dozens.

Sandhill Cranes, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

We couldn’t get too close without spooking them, but it was extremely interesting to watch them move around.  While not nearly as plentiful as the tens of thousands of cranes that migrate through Jasper-Pulaski National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Indiana each November, or the hundreds of thousands that descend on the Platte River in Nebraska each migratory season, there were still plenty of subjects.

I’m far more used to seeing Canada Geese, which have become a year-round presence in the American Midwest, but the geese at Creamer’s Field–which intermingled with the cranes constantly without incident–did make for compelling photographic subjects as well, flying as they do in formation.

Canada Geese in Flight Black & White, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

Part of our morning at Creamer’s Field, before we came upon the bulk of the cranes, was spent hiking and scouting the Boreal Forest Trail, one of a number of trails that winds its way around the refuge property.  While boreal forest ecosystems are dominated by coniferous trees (spruce, pines, larches), there are a significant number of deciduous trees as well, most particularly birch.  While the rain prevented any serious photographing of this area, we were all quite impressed with what we saw along the trail and spent a lot of time making mental notes about the scenery, in case we had a chance to return at some point in better conditions.

It was early afternoon when we finished photographing the cranes and geese–and it was still raining steadily.  We decided to spend some time on the Steese Highway, which runs north and east of Fairbanks.  We drove this road for a few hours, most of it in the rain.  As we were returning to Fairbanks, the rain finally stopped, late in the afternoon, though it was still mostly cloudy.  I suggested that, if everyone was agreeable, that we return to Creamer’s Field and spend some time photographing along the Boreal Forest Trail before it got dark.  This was an easy sell, and we returned to the refuge, grabbed our gear, and headed for the trail.

Boreal Forest Trail, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

After hiking through open fields, the trail moves into a wetland area that includes a dense birch forest–as thick a growth of birch as I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Birch Reflections Black & White, Boreal Forest Trail, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

That was my focus for the remainder of the time we were at the refuge–which lasted until it started to get dark (it remained cloudy and there was to be no sunset this evening).  This is the kind of setting, given the associated conditions, that I love to photograph:  the light was even, the wind had dropped to nothing more than a light breeze and there were compelling compositions to be teased out of the location almost everywhere.  What you’ll see in the remainder of this post is a sample of what I photographed that day.  The truth is, I haven’t come close to finishing post-processing the images made along the Boreal Forest Trail, so the selection below will have to do.

Boreal Forest Trail, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

Birch Trunks Black & White, Boreal Forest Trail, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

Boreal Forest Trail, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

Boreal Forest Trail, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

Boreal Forest Trail, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

Boreal Forest Trail Black & White, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

Ellen unearthed this location during her extensive research preceding the trip and what a gem she discovered.  Other images from Creamer’s Field will undoubtedly be included in future posts in this series from Alaska.

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Responses

  1. Sometimes you are at the right place at the right time. Seeing all those cranes is really special (my friend who was there 10 days later said they saw 3). And the birch forest is magical.

    • Agreed. We were lucky to be at the refuge during the peak of the migration, and equally lucky, I think, to have had the opportunity to photograph along the Boreal Forest Trail; it we hadn’t had those few hours that day, it wouldn’t have happened because the weather was so bad on the other occasions when we were back in the Fairbanks area.

  2. So beautiful! I continue to enjoy your photos. Thank you for sharing your gift of capturing nature in beautiful photos.

    • Thanks, Roland!

  3. Marvelous and I’m guessing this is just the start of an extremely rewarding trip! I’m happy to be along for the ride. 😀

    • Thanks, Gunta!


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