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Birds of the Western Slope February 17, 2016

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Photo by Kent Clegg© Juvenile sandhill cranes.

Coming soon to a
reservoir near you

During the first weeks of March these familiar birds begin arriving in our area. Keep your eyes and ears open and you might see or hear them. Once you've heard the wild warbling of our sandhill cranes, you'll recognize that marvelous sound!

The photo came to me from Kent Clegg who was the first to lead our birds by ultralight aircraft and I had the good fortune to meet him at the Crane Festival in Socorro, N.M. In his photo, note the coloring on the tops of the heads -- not red! Sandhills don't develop the red heads until they're into their second year. When I understood this detail, I was regularly able to spot juveniles at Hart's Basin Reservoir.

Our birds are properly labeled as the Rocky Mountain Population of Greater Sandhill Cranes, numbering about 20,000 individuals. There are other cranes (15 species worldwide) and on our continent we have the whooping cranes (check future columns for the latest information about them) and the lesser sandhill cranes (a bit smaller than ours but numbering over 500,000).

Our birds spend the winter in the area around the Bosque del Apache (see map). Then they fly northward to the San Luis Valley where they spend several weeks (the crane festival at Alamosa/Monte Vista is March 11-13). When the "urge" moves them, the cranes fly over the Rocky Mountains to our reservoir for a one night stand. They arrive anytime from 2 p.m. until dark and then leave, usually before noon the next day. The birds are now anxious to reach their nesting grounds to our north: Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and northern Colorado. Our Crane Days Festival will occur March 18-20. Watch this newspaper for details.

When we first came to the Delta area, some people referred to our reservoir as Fruitgrowers Reservoir, but I heard "Hart's Basin" more frequently, so that is the term I've used over the years.

Our cranes are coming soon!

Read more from:
Surface Creek
Birds of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn
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