It seems like it was only yesterday that I was driving along this road on my way to Palisade to connect with Karen. We were headed for the Colorado Fish & Wildlife Commission hearing to speak in opposition to the proposed hunting of our greater sandhill cranes. Now that was a ways back! Five years ago to be precise. And now Karen is driving and we are on our way to the fifth annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival in Steamboat Springs.
Back then, we in opposition to a proposed hunt tried to present our case. There are over 500,000 lesser sandhills that range from the Gulf of Mexico to nesting sites in Alaska and even into Russia. In contrast, our birds, the Rocky Mountain Population of Greater Sandhills, number only about 20,000 and they range from Montana to the Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. Some of them nest and raise their young in the Yampa Valley. They may migrate through our local Hart's Basin (Fruitgrowers Reservoir), then they move into Colorado's San Luis Valley, and finally onto their wintering grounds in the area of Bosque del Apache in New Mexico.
The festival this year was great! Cranes, cranes and people who love cranes! But I was particularly interested to talk with Dr. Barry Hartup, the crane veterinarian for International Crane Foundation (since 2000). ICF has worked with Operation Migration (OM) for years and I've supported them. OM led Whooping Crane fledglings for years from Wisconsin to Florida. But they did not fly their route this year. Why not? Barry told me that both of the ultra-light pilots (Brook and Joe) are working with the new efforts to reintroduce the birds. I still don't approve of the new program but I feel helpless to alter it.
I also talked with Paul Tebble formerly with the Platte River organization in Nebraska -- we spoke of seeing the cranes from the evening blind and all things "crane." His masters degree in zoology is from the University of Western Ontario and his thesis was on sandhill cranes.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Nyambayar Batbayar who is fluent in English and Mongolian. He is the director and research biologist of the Wildlife Conservation Center of Mongolia. The connection between Mongolia and the United States continues with Mongolian interns coming to the United States. What a weekend!