Crane Festival has new format for viewing

Photos by Mechel Meek Sandhill cranes are seen in a barley field in the San Luis Valley. The birds are making their annual Spring migration. The Monte Vista Crane Festival is set for March 11-13.

SAN LUIS VALLEY — The cries of hundreds of sandhill cranes have returned to the San Luis Valley. Every year, the large birds can be seen returning from their winter grounds in the south to the assorted wetlands of the Valley.

The sandhill cranes are a draw for visitors, researchers, and bird enthusiasts from around the world. Many people come every year to Monte Vista during the Crane Festival to view these birds, listen to experts speak, and enjoy the craft show. The Crane Fest is March 11-13.

The Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge will be open one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset for viewing.

The Crane Festival Arts and Crafts Fair returns to the Ski Hi Complex in Monte Vista on March 11 and 12. This year the annual Home and Garden Expo is combining with the Crane Festival Arts and Crafts Fair.

According to the Monte Vista Crane Festival website, mvcranefest.org, “In 2022, we are hosting a hybrid festival. We will not be using buses or gathering indoors. Instead of Crane tours, you will drive yourself to meet-up locations on the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge and learn from experts interesting facts about sandhill cranes from Refuge staff and volunteers. Individual tickets are purchased by selecting an event on the website. Please select one Crane Sandhill Crane Orientation Meet-up for the entire weekend to attend, we have limited availability this year because of COVID. If you wish to take a second tour to locations outside of the Refuge, again please select one meetup for the entire weekend. For 2022 speaking events, we asked our experts to record their presentations. You can watch the videos on-demand for free from March 11 through March 20. We hope you enjoy! The videos contain interesting information about wildlife use of abandoned mines along the Sangre de Christo Mountains, Flammulated Owls at the Hot Creek Research Natural Area in the San Luis Valley, raptor education by Hawks Aloft and more. The Craft Fair will be taking place for the entire weekend.”

The ecosystem of the San Luis Valley is vital to many birds, not just the iconic Sandhill Crane. The San Luis Valley is a unique microcosm that many different types of migrating birds rely upon. The multifaceted system is comprised of several different types of wetlands, agriculture, and the most endangered wetland, the riparian wetland.

The strength of the stopover habitat is dependent on water, which highlights the importance of thoughtful management of water resources throughout the Valley. These migratory birds are a vital part of the local ecosystem, as they distribute seeds, pollen, and food chain balance which helps the overall health of this complex and inter-reliant system.

As the migratory birds ingest a large amount of energy to migrate, the health of the wetland areas is vital to their populations. Over 400 different bird species depend on the various Valley wetlands to make their semiannual migrations from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

The sandhill crane depends heavily on the San Luis Valley to support its migration north in the Spring and south in the Fall. The plentiful areas set aside in the various wildlife refuges provide needed breeding areas and plentiful food for these majestic wanderers.

The availability of waste grain from farm fields is also a boon to these birds, especially during the early Spring.

“Upon reaching the SLV, they scatter themselves throughout barley fields, lakes, wetlands, and the Rio Grande, feeding on high-calorie grains and nutrient-dense aquatic invertebrates. Each Spring and Fall, thousands of feathers slice through the brisk San Luis Valley (SLV) sky, alerting resident wildlife, local farmers, and eager birders to the change of season. Ranging from shorebirds to songbirds, a myriad of avian species visits this high-elevation desert as they migrate along the Central Flyway to their breeding and wintering grounds. Nurtured by the Valley’s mosaic of wetlands, riparian corridors, and agricultural fields, the SLV is a critical stopover for these determined travelers,” stated the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council in an article titled "The San Luis Valley as a Critical Stopover During Bird Migration."

The Monte Vista Crane Festival is a collaborative effort by Friends of the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuges, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Monte Vista Chamber of Commerce and City of Monte Vista.

Photos by Mechel Meek Sandhill cranes are seen in a barley field in the San Luis Valley. The birds are making their annual Spring migration. The Monte Vista Crane Festival is set for March 11-13.

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