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Birds of the Western Slope April 27, 2016

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Counting Cranes

I pull off of N Road into the widened area where the Black Canyon Audubon sign depicts our shorebirds. They've already begun to arrive: pelican and ibis, avocets and godwits. At the moment, it's nearly sundown. And it's very quiet -- no crane sounds. The silence is oppressive. I remember other times.

I remember so many scenes. The late April snow storm with over a thousand cranes trapped by the blizzard. These normally gregarious birds became stressed and irritated. Threat displays, angry lunges, and some simply lay down to endure. Birds being thrown and tossed by the gale winds -- I will never forget. And another year, when we had whooping cranes within our flock of sandhills. A glorious spring morning of blue sky and bright sunlight. The birds spiraling up and up and up to finally V-out over the Grand Mesa. The three whoopers -- so much larger, so much whiter!

And years later phone calls: "Whooper!"

But it was just a pelican that decided to take off with the sandhills. A big white bird with black wingtips. But soon the pelican grew weary and drifted back to land at the basin.

Of course, each year is different, with new experiences to cherish. The table shows the total numbers from 2000 to 2016. In 2006 we had 18,000 but in 2007 only 8,000. Why? That's still a mystery. And so I estimate that we'll likely have from 10,000 to 15,000 -- half to two-thirds of the flock of 20,000 each season. They come to us on "crane time." Even if I get word from the San Luis Valley that some have taken off, they don't always show up here. There are other places to land . . .

Crawford, along the Gunnison River, at the seeps along our mesas. But I never tire of the spectacular event.

Though the migration is about over, we may still have cranes that summer in our area. The hot-line will still be functioning with updates on notable birds such as pelicans, western grebe chicks, or duck families. Please feel free to call. I love to talk about birds! My phone number is 835-8391.



Year Count

2000 11,135

2001 15,284

2002 12,262

2003 16,544

2004 11,246

2005 14,204

2006 18,658

2007 8,595

2008 13,717

2009 15,511

2010 17,109

2011 13,442

2012 13,294

2013 14,793

2014 13,918

2015 10,760 2016 12,355?

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Birds of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn
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