Monte Vista Welcomes Sandhill Cranes in March

Every March, the small town of Monte Vista, Colorado, experiences a population explosion.

Thousands of gregarious and hungry Sandhill Cranes descend on the nearby Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge to rest and refuel for as long as six weeks before continuing their spring migration north to breeding grounds in the Greater Yellowstone area of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.

For 33 years, the residents of Monte Vista have celebrated the arrival of the big birds by hosting the Monte Vista Crane Festival. The festival focuses on all things “crane,” and draws hundreds of attendees ranging from locals to international tourists.

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The 2016 festival will be held March 11-13 with events scheduled in and around Monte Vista. Events including bus tours, guest speakers, and a craft show are the highlights of the three-day event.

The festival’s main draw, of course, is the opportunity to get up close and personal with the cranes. During sunrise tours, visitors watch as the Sandhills wake from their night’s roost and begin “dancing” and vocalizing. These intense interactions are the prelude to the morning liftoff when large groups of cranes noisily take flight. During the day huge flocks of Sandhill Cranes can be spotted eating and loafing in nearby grain fields.

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The sunset tours are equally impressive as lines of cranes return to the refuge from all directions. The cranes are just as garrulous as they were in the morning and their awkward yet precise landings provide fascinating entertainment. Somehow they manage to avoid crane¬to¬crane collisions while also dodging the hundreds of Canada geese and ducks that stopover at the wildlife refuge.

The festival’s keynote speaker is Jim Pfitzer, who will portray conservationist and author Aldo Leopold in a one¬man play entitled “A Standard of Change.” Leopold is widely recognized as a founder of the modern conservation movement and is the author of “A Sand Creek Almanac.” The keynote address will be Saturday, March 12, 7:30pm at the Vali 3 Theater, 139 Adams St., Monte Vista. Reservations are not required. Donations are requested.

With the majestic snow¬capped Sangre de Cristo and San Juan mountains as background eye candy, photography and videography opportunities abound during crane migration. Photographer Ed MacKerrow will offer three one-day photography workshops during the Crane Festival. The workshops, limited to 8 participants per day, will focus on field techniques and post processing. The cost for each one-day workshop is $100 per person. Net proceeds are tax deductible and will support workshops, speakers and tours at the Monte Vista Crane Festival.

The photography workshops on Friday, Saturday or Sunday (March 11-13, 2016) will consist of field instruction on the Monte Vista Refuge from 5:30-10:30am, followed by classroom instruction on image processing from noon¬2 p.m., and more field instruction from 3¬6:30pm. For more information or register for the photography workshops go to this website or call 505¬690¬0549.

Workshops on Saturday, March 12, include Dr. Tim Armstrong, Adams State University, “The Effects of Grazing on Small Mammals on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge,” at 10:30am; Meg Van Ness, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service archaeologist, “The Scott Miller Archaeological Site: 520,000 Tuesdays in the San Luis Valley,” at 1pm; and Gail Garber and Mike Fugagle from Hawks Aloft, “All About Owls,” at 3pm. All workshops will be at Vali 3 Theater, 139 Adams St., Monte Vista. The workshops are open to the public. Donations are requested.

Refuge bus tours to view the Sandhill Cranes will depart twice daily on Friday and Saturday, March 11 and 12, and on Sunday morning, March 13, from the Ski Hi Building, 2330 Sherman Ave., Monte Vista. The Sunrise Tour buses begin loading at 7am and the Sunset Tours will board at 4pm. Bus tour reservations are recommended by registering online at www.mvcranefest.org. The reservation deadline is March 9, 2016. Donations are requested.

Other tours include the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, Valley Raptors, the BLM Blanca Wetlands, and the BLM Penitente Canyon. For dates, times and registration visit www.mvcranefest.org. Donations are requested for these field trips.

A showing of the movie “The Big Year” will be on Friday, March 11, at 7:30pm at the Vali 3 Theatre, 139 Adams St., Monte Vista. Suggested donation is $6 for adults and $4 for children.

The Kiwanis Club will host a Birder’s Breakfast on Saturday, March 12, from 6-10am at the Ski Hi Building, 2330 Sherman Ave., Monte Vista. The Craft Fair is also located at the Ski Hi Building. Craft Fair hours are Friday, March 11, 10am-4pm; Saturday, March 12, 8am-4pm.; and Sunday March 13, 9am-2pm.

Festival visitors may choose to view the Sandhill Cranes from the comfort of their own vehicles. The Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is located along Hwy. 15 about six miles south of Monte Vista. An auto tour route and pull¬outs provide ample wildlife viewing opportunities. The Refuge Visitor Center will be open from 8am to 4pm during the Crane Festival.

For additional information call the Monte Vista Chamber of Commerce at 719-852-2731.

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