Every spring, thousands of big birds take to the big skies of a mountainous Colorado valley. And thousands of people follow.
The Monte Vista Crane Festival, the state’s oldest birding festival, turns 37 next month. March 6-8, sandhill cranes will pose for onlookers, whose photo albums aren’t complete without the sight: The long-legged, wide-winged creatures in flight, the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo peaks soaring beyond.
The San Luis Valley has no shortage of curiosities — sand dunes, hot springs, an alligator farm, an alien watchtower — and the cranes are among them. They mate for life, reads the education from the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve’s website, “but each spring they renew their bond through a courtship ritual that includes dancing, bowing, chortling, and throwing tufts of grass in the air.”
The festival offers arts and crafts, workshops and lectures. Guided tours are quick to sell out.
But most flock on their own with cameras and binoculars, keeping their eyes peeled from the crisscrossing roads of the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is ideal for the cranes — fields of grain on which to feast and wetlands on which to roost.
The cranes typically stay put through March before embarking onward for the summer. Some go on to raise their chicks in Nebraska, while others settle in the greater Yellowstone National Park area.
For more information on the festival, go to mvcranefest.org.