2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   CREAMER'S FIELD: BIRD-WATCHING & HIKING

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4

 
"The pastoral focal points of the Refuge are the historic dairy buildings and the
farm fields which now are used exclusively by migrating waterfowl and other wildlife.
The Refuge also boasts wetland habitat and boreal forest habitat which are
easily explored by miles of well-maintained walking trails."
 
~ from the Creamer's Field.org website
 
 
What a beautiful place! Put it on your list of places to visit if you're in Fairbanks.

You don't have to be an avid bird-watcher to enjoy Creamer's Field. Even with lots of interpretive signs I didn't even try to identify all the waterfowl I saw today -- it was just fun to watch thousands of elegant sandhill cranes, ducks, geese, and other birds forage for food to help them on their long journeys to warmer climes for the winter.

 


Canada geese

Creamer's Field is a scenic 2,000-acre setting with open fields, flower-filled meadows, wetlands, and boreal forests. Formerly a large dairy farm, the land is now owned and managed for the protection of wildlife by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

The historic farm house has been converted into a visitor center. Five miles of trails wind through the fields and forests.


The state continues to farm part of the land for the benefit of the birds and other wildlife.

Entry to the entire Refuge is free. The multi-use trails are open year-round and are groomed in the winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

All the trails are open to hiking; all but the one-mile boreal forest loop are open to cycling, too.

I was very pleased to discover before going out to Creamer's Field that leashed dogs are welcome on all of the trails so Cody was able to hike more than three miles of them with me today.

EXPLORING CREAMER'S FIELD

This afternoon Jim rode his bike all over town and I explored much of the same route with the truck and on foot. My first destination was Creamer's  Field:


View toward the dairy barn from the parking area on College Ave. 


Binoculars and long camera lenses are handy to zoom in on the birds.

Approaching from the east on College Avenue I saw a sign for the Refuge and a large parking area. I pulled in and parked for a few minutes so I could learn more about the place. A tour bus and some other private vehicles were also there.

Some folks were reading the interpretive signs about the history of Creamer's Field and the birds that pass through in the spring and fall. There are probably a dozen panels spaced out along the very long fence line in this area:


Benches are strategically placed throughout the entire refuge for quiet observation.


The Creamer Family farmed this land for 60 years, until the 1960s. Waterfowl and other 
  wildlife were attracted to this land long before the Creamers or the state managed it.


Migrating birds that nest in Alaska during the summer fly thousands of miles to their
traditional winter grounds in the Lower 48 states, Mexico, and Central America.

As I walked along the fence line reading the signs and taking photos I called Jim to tell him about all the ducks, geese, and sandhill cranes I could see from the parking area along the road. I encouraged him to ride out this way to see Creamer's Field.

At that point I didn't know about all the trails, however, or that you can bike on most of them. Jim did ride out to this viewing area on College Ave. after I moved the truck back to the visitor center. He really enjoyed watching the birds from that location but he didn't ride back the lane to the visitor center and trailheads. Later I wished I'd called him a second time to recommend he ride back there, too.

Anywhere we travel we always manage to leave some things for our next trip . . .

 

After I left the viewing area on College Ave. I drove back a little lane to the visitor center and parked near the trailhead to the wetlands, farm road, and boreal forest trails. They can also be accessed off Margaret Ave. on the east side of the refuge.

There are numerous interpretive panels along all the trails and in the parking areas (two photos above). It's interesting to read the history of the dairy farm and how it became a wildlife refuge. There is also a ton of information about the birds that fly in and out of this area during migrations, and the hardy ones who live here year-round.

The visitor center is in the renovated farmhouse near the large dairy barns:


Most of the trails (which are dirt or grass, not paved) are wheelchair-accessible, too.


One room of displays in the renovated farmhouse


Some memorabilia from the old dairy farm

I went in briefly to read some of the information. No one else was there, including staff.

TRAILS THROUGH FIELDS & FORESTS

I found a trail map and went back outside to plan my hiking route with Cody:

Click on this link for a larger version of the map.

While the birds are migrating visitors arenít allowed to traipse off-trail in the fields, which were full of birds on the ground and in the air today.

It's fine to walk (or bike) on the wide trails through the fields, however. The next few pictures are along the Farm Road Trail:

I climbed up this tall viewing platform to get a larger 360-degree view of the eastern side of the refuge:

 

"Waterfowl" like water, obviously. Although there was some water in two ponds in the large front field I didn't see much water anywhere else as I wandered through the fields and forests.

Most of the streams and ponds are either very low or have dried up by now. Some of the interpretive signs along the trails show photos of standing water after the snow melts in the spring. During the summer the water gradually sinks down into the permafrost and disappears.

There is obviously plenty of food for the birds to eat this time of year, however, or they wouldnít stop here on their way south. 

After spending the summer in northern Alaska the birds flock to Creamerís Field in August and early September on their way to warmer climates in the southwestern US and Mexico. I read that in order to keep all the migrating waterfowl away from the airport, the city spreads tons of barley on the fields at Creamerís every year! Now we know one reason they like this place so much. 

We watched an interesting film about sandhill cranes at a wildlife refuge while we were in Homer so I was particularly interested in seeing these large birds gracefully walking through the fields today. I took lots of pictures of them:

That photo shows two of the common color variations of the sandhill cranes that summer in Alaska.

We unknowingly picked a great time to see the cranes -- one tourism book says about 200,000 sandhill cranes use the Tanana River Valley as their flyway in the spring and fall. I donít know when they arrive in the spring but I assume it's after most of the snow has melted.

Here are a couple links where you can read much more about sandhill cranes, if you're interested. The first is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the second from Wikipedia (I know, I know . . .).

BOREAL FOREST LOOP

I followed the Farm Road Trail out to the now-dry Crane Pond, then retraced my steps back to the trailhead for the Boreal Forest Loop:

I especially liked the forest loop because of all the tall aspens and paper bark birch trees with their golden leaves. The leaves were especially dramatic when the sun was shining on them.

It looked more like a forest in northern Minnesota to me than the boreal forests I've seen in other parts of Alaska and northern Canada.

 

Boreal forests cover a large portion of the globe in the Northern Hemisphere and a total of 17% of the earth's land surface.

When the snow melts there is a lot of water in the forest so much of the trail on the Boreal Loop is on wooden boardwalks and bridges:

 

 

This tall viewing platform on the far side of the loop overlooks an area next to the forest with small willows that moose enjoy eating:

 

Cody climbed up there with me but we didn't see any moose in the middle of the afternoon. That's probably more likely in the early morning or evening at feeding time. We did see plenty of little forest animals.

WETLANDS AREA 

After hiking the forest loop Cody and I walked through part of wetlands area and fields on the west side of the refuge.

The low spot in the next two pictures is a lake in the spring and early summer after the snow melts but in late summer and fall it's a green field:


One of the entrances to the wetlands


I'm sure this looks much different when filled with snowmelt.

Here are some other scenes from this side of the refuge:


Another entrance to the wetlands


More fields full of birds + interesting clouds


Lots of Canada geese and sandhill cranes here, too

There were more people at Creamer's Field on a Tuesday afternoon than I expected, probably because of the migrating birds. Kids are in school but there were residents and tourists both older and younger than school age enjoying the wildlife, trails, and sunshine.

Cody had plenty of doggie company, too. Good thing he isnít a ďduck dogĒ like his dam or he woulda gone nuts!

Next entry:  the rest of our afternoon Tuesday and other activities on Wednesday, our last full day in Alaska

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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