What a beautiful place! Put it on your list of places to visit if you're
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
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
View toward the dairy barn from the parking area on
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
Most of the
trails (which are dirt or grass, not paved) are wheelchair-accessible, too.
One room of
displays in the renovated farmhouse
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 &
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 aren’t 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
"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
wouldn’t stop here on their way south.
After spending the summer in northern Alaska the birds flock to Creamer’s 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 Creamer’s 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 don’t 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
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
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
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
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 isn’t a “duck dog”
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
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil