Western Slope: Soon to See Sandhill Cranes

Feb 23, 2015 by     No Comments    Posted under: Features, The Wild

Rocky Mountain Sandhill Cranes have been traveling almost the same migratory route for thousands of years along the Rocky Mountain Range. Over 20,000 of them winter in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, and make their way north as the weather warms. One of their first stops is the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in the San Luis Valley of south central Colorado where they stay for a couple weeks before making their way to Fruitgrowers Reservoir outside of Eckert.Crane-Watchers2-Durr

Fruitgrowers Reservoir is a very special place because unlike most resting areas, the Reservoir is not protected to the same extent as a Wildlife Refuge. The Reservoir is controlled by the Bureau of Reclamation, but all the surrounding land is privately owned, which could have spelled disaster for the birds. Fortunately, landowners have done a terrific job caring for this area over the years and ensuring the cranes are protected.

Sandhill Cranes fly in groups of varying size, and stay at Fruitgrowers Reservoir for one night before continuing their journey north. The Reservoir is a place where the cranes can rest and feed after a long, non-stop flight from Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. It’s also unique because it is the last place all the cranes migrate to before dispersing to areas such as Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Yellowstone National Park and the Salt Lake City area.

Cranes-in-Flight1-DurrFlocks of Sandhill Cranes typically begin heading towards Fruitgrowers Reservoir in March between 2-6pm, and will continue to do so throughout the middle of April. Their rattling cacophony of calls can be heard up to 2.5 miles away, alerting every one of their presence. It is an incredible sight to see as these 4-5 feet tall birds begin parachuting down for their overnight stay.

Takeoff the following morning is equally as astonishing. The cranes wait until the air warms up enough to use the thermals to help carry them above the Grand Mesa. People travel from all over the state to view this phenomenon. In fact, so many people come to view the birds that the Black Canyon Audubon Society reasoned with the county to build a small parking lot about ½ mile away from the reservoir.Watchers

Eckert Crane Days is coming up and correlates with the time crane numbers tend to be highest. During the weekend of March 20-22, 2015 community members are invited to a series of events, including viewing the cranes at the reservoir and listening to expert presentations. The schedule of events can be found on the Black Canyon Audubon Society website. You can also contribute to crane data collection by sharing the number of cranes you have seen on a particular day via the Eckert Crane Days website. View nature at its best and come check out the Sandhill Cranes at Fruitgrowers Reservoir. The reservoir is a great resource for the community and the cranes are truly marvelous. They should not be missed!

Photos Courtesy of Jim Durr



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