MONTE VISTA - Mark your calendars for the 37th Monte Vista Crane Festival, scheduled for March 6 - 8, 2020. Ticket sales for the tours, speakers, movies and other events will go live Jan. 2 at mvcranefest.org.
The annual festival celebrates the remarkable journey of some 25,000 Sandhill Cranes through the San Luis Valley each spring—a migration that begins in southern New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and ends at the nesting grounds in the greater Yellowstone area of Wyoming and Idaho. While passing through the Valley, the tall, elegant birds gather by the thousands in and around the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge staff manage the on-site wetlands and barley fields specifically to attract cranes and other wildlife. “The wetlands offer nighttime roosting sites,” said refuge manager Suzanne Beauchaine. “We mow the barley fields just before the festival, which provides a virtual smorgasbord.”
The cranes feed on the fallen grain as well as small animals attracted to the food. “If you watch closely, you may see a crane spear a vole or mouse with its long beak and toss it to its partner,” Beauchaine said. “You’ll also see cranes hop and dance in courtship and hear collective sound of their calls, which is breathtaking, especially with the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background.”
This year’s festival includes crane- and hawk-viewing tours as well as expert-led excursions to Elephant Rocks, Blanca Wetlands, the Scott Miller Archaeological Site and a private conservation site protected under the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust. Local ornithologist John Rawinski will return to lead bird walks around the Home Lake State Wildlife Area (the bird walks sold out quickly in 2019). The wildly popular craft and nature fair will once again be held in the Monte Vista’s Ski Hi Building, with live birds on display from Hawks Aloft, a raptor rescue and rehabilitator out of New Mexico.
This year’s keynote speaker is Colorado-based historian and Theodore Roosevelt re-enactor Kurt Skinner, who whisks audiences of all ages back to a time when the former president imprinted on Americans a love of the natural world. Other speakers include Cleave Simpson and Max Ciaglo. Simpson is general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District in Alamosa, Colorado. His talk, “Dealing with Water Scarcity,” will spotlight water issues facing the Rio Grande Basin and San Luis Valley. Ciaglo, a biologist and intern with Colorado Open Lands, will present on the “Grains for Cranes” project—a unique partnership between federal agencies, local businesses and private barley growers to manage barley as a vital food for cranes.
This year’s featured movies include “Rango” and “Bird of Prey.” “Rango” is a good, old-fashioned (animated) western about a less-than-courageous chameleon who unwittingly ends up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost populated by desert creatures. Rango becomes sheriff---as well as the town’s last hope from a greedy developer’s water grab. Winners of the fourth Annual Kid’s Crane Coloring Contest will be announced before the movie. “Bird of Prey” weaves together stunning footage of the critically endangered Great Philippine Eagle with the remarkable story of wildlife cinematographer Neil Rettig and a small group of conservationists from the Philippine Eagle Foundation—who work tirelessly to save the bird from extinction.
Please note that except for the Friday night movie this year all tours, speakers and movies will require a ticket for admittance. For schedule and ticket information, visit mvcranefest.org.
The crane festival is organized every year by a dedicated group of volunteers who depend on sponsorship dollars to support the event. Without sponsorship, the crane festival would not happen. Folks interested in supporting this important community event can email [email protected] or call 720-940-7561, or donate directly at mvcranefest.org.