EcoCenter’s new addition gets up close with sandhill cranes
Each spring and summer, people flock to the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter for bird watching.
They see redwing blackbirds, yellow headed blackbirds and the ever popular sandhill cranes.
This year, watching the sandhill cranes just got a lot easier thanks to the Swaner EcoCenter’s new crane cam, according to Nell Larson, executive director of the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter.
The public can visit http://www.swanerecocenter.org and click the Live Preserve Web Cam link to see a nest.
"We installed it over the winter high up on observation tower," Larson said during an interview with The Park Record. "We launched it about a month before the cranes were about to nest. We wanted to make sure all the kinks were smoothed out before the cranes arrived."
During that time, the EcoCenter staff focused the camera on other areas of the preserve.
"We saw coyotes and foxes hunting," Larson said. "We also saw a lot of the elk herd that are out there." The camera was ready when the cranes, migrating from the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, stopped in Park City to nest for the summer.
"We were able to watch a territory dispute between a few different pairs," Larson said. "We captured the cranes mating and we captured them nesting and laying their eggs."
The EcoCenter worked with Utah State University’s Quinney College to install the camera.
"They worked on another project up at USU, so they provided the equipment and expertise to put the camera on our tower," Larson said.
The nest the camera zooms in on is one that has been around since 2008, the year the EcoCenter was built.
"The pair of cranes nest in the pond adjacent to the EcoCenter," Larson said. "The camera is nowhere near the nest, but we zoomed in."
The camera will focus on the nesting site until the cranes leave for the season. At that point, the camera will highlight other views and wildlife on the Preserve, Larson explained.
The idea behind the cam is to give everyone an opportunity to learn a little more about the bird and to keep a closer eye on the cranes.
Another live cam feed will be set up in the EcoCenter’s gift shop.
"This is something that we have been talking about for years because we enjoy watching the cranes," she said. "The EcoCenter visitors also have so much fun with the cranes. We send them out to our viewing scopes or loan them our binoculars, and they have so much fun watching. So, we thought this would be a good tool [to teach] about conservation and sandhill cranes. It’s so engaging." There are about seven pairs of sandhill cranes that nest on the Preserve, according to Larson.
"The nesting territory is usually about 200 acres, so, the ones that come here have a slightly smaller area, which probably has to do with the high quality of the habitat," she said.
The cranes mate for life and they co-incubate.
"The male and female take turns sitting on the eggs, and while one is incubating, one will go feed and stretch its legs," Larson said. "They roll the eggs to keep them healthy." Sandhill cranes lay an average of two eggs a season and have an incubation period of 29 to 32 days.
"Sometimes they lay one and sometimes they lay three, but the ones we are focusing on have two," Larson said. "The first was laid on April 25 and the other was laid on April 27. So, we’re expecting them to hatch as early as May 24 or by May 29."
Sandhill cranes are iconic to the Swaner Preserve, but also to the community, Larson said.
"They are the oldest living species of birds, which makes sense, because people often comment on how they look and sound prehistoric," she said. "The oldest confirmed sandhill crane fossil is 2.5 million years old and it’s the same species we have around today." Throughout the United States, the sandhill crane population is pretty healthy, according to Larson.
"There are some pockets of populations around the United States that are in danger," she said. "The future of the sandhill cranes depends on the availability of habitat. We need to make sure that those large wet meadows and wetlands are available without nearby development."
Larson hopes people will visit the website and watch the cranes.
"They are such a cool species," she said. "We joked that ever since we went live, our office work activity has plummeted."
For more information about the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter’s live web cam, visit http://www.swanerecocenter.org .
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