Dude Creek —
Critical Habitat Area
Fish and Wildlife
A key resting area for flocks of migrating lesser sandhill cranes, the area comes alive each fall with hoarse, throaty calls as thousands of cranes stop to rest and feed in the wet meadows before moving farther south to winter. Small numbers of cranes also stop to rest and feed during the spring migration north.
The wet meadow complex of Dude Creek differs substantially in plant composition from southeast Alaska's more common muskeg and saltchuck wetland types. A high water table over broad, flat terrain has produced a complex of low-growing shrubs, sedges, mosses, and horsetail interspersed with patches of willow thicket and scrub forest. This hydrological and geophysical combination ideally meets the needs of the notoriously shy cranes, providing them with long-range visibility of predators, shallow water for roosting, insulation from human development, and a food supply suitable for the high-energy demands of migration.
Old-timers report the dispersed presence of sandhill cranes in wetland meadows throughout the Juneau and Gustavus areas. Today, however, a combination of human development activities and natural forest succession in drier areas have concentrated sandhill cranes in the wet meadows of Dude Creek.
Although lesser sandhill cranes, with their great fidelity to Dude Creek's wet meadows, are the area's premier wildlife species, other birds are found here as well. Canada geese in flocks of up to 300 rest and forage in the meadows throughout much of the year, but especially during spring and fall. A few mergansers and mallards can be found nesting and raising young along small streams. Snipe, least sandpipers, and savannah sparrows nest in the meadows, while songbirds nest in adjacent shrublands and forests. Marsh hawks and other raptors pass through the area during migration. Marsh hawks and short-eared owls are know to nest in the area. Ravens, magpies and bald eagles are year-round residents.
During population peaks, the long-tailed vole is the most common mammal. Coyotes, wolves, and short-tailed weasels hunt the wet meadow habitat for voles. Moose are increasingly common in the area. Larger mammals, including black bears, use the forested Dude Creek corridor as a thoroughfare between the wooded inland and the coast. Black bears can sometimes be seen along the forest/wet meadow fringe. Red squirrels abound in the Dude Creek forest corridor, and marten are common at times. Porcupines are distributed sparsely in the forest. River otters travel up and down the banks of Dude Creek and Good River.