Migration of a Traveler


The out of state license plate read - BRDYMBL (The meaning should be obvious, but, Birdy Mobile is how I read the license plate unless the Brady Bunch happened to be at the Crane Festival in their 'mobile' and perhaps touring with the Partridge Family - showing my age!) - Met the older couple who owned the SUV. Yep, they were serious about their bird watching! Retired, traveling around, and following the birds. Armed with cameras, binoculars, and a small telescope, their birding lifestyle gets them off the couch and out and about. Works well for them and they obviously love what they do. Taking pictures of birds is their thing.

Another couple from Colorado Springs put it this way, "This is the height of geekdom when it comes to birdwatching!" he explained, "when we tell our friends in the Springs what we are doing for the weekend at the Crane Festival, they look at us funny. They don't get it, but that's okay."

I quizzed a 20-something taking pictures who had all the gear, a nice camera, numerous lenses, filters and a large, over the shoulder case as she walked around snapping photos of everything! She was a freelancer from New York City and was sent out by a high end lifestyle magazine to cover the Crane Festival. Nice assignment! Whether or not the New York readers of the magazine would ever be prompted to come west for the Crane Festival is unknown, but, at least they would be able to experience and appreciate a little bit of real nature through her pictures.

Up before dawn on a Saturday morning in mid-March, a bit brisk outside with temperatures in the twenties and an unsettled breeze blowing at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, having cold fingers and ears, what could make that worth it? All of us who were there were greeted by a colorful sunrise over the Mount Blanca massif of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east. Lots of crazy shapes in the clouds, many with torched red and orange underbellies, made a great visual which got better when a few hundred cranes floating across the sky and coming in for a landing on their 'breakfast field' were silhouetted against that scenic backdrop. Sadly my IPhone camera has limitations and did not like the dark background but I am sure someone got a nice shot of that particular image.

The early morning attendees seemed to be mostly a largely older bird watching crowd when I noticed a group of college age students. I quizzed them. They were from Metropolitan State University in Denver on a field trip for their Ornithology class. - Ornithology = study of birds. None had ever been to the San Luis Valley. They liked the Valley and the congregations of cranes and geese was unlike anything they had seen before. They were busy observing, taking photos and notes (I went to the online course catalogue for Metro State for Biology Majors and looked under electives - 'BIO 3280 - FIELD ORNITHOLOGY - A comprehensive course on the field aspects of ornithology. Students will learn proper identification techniques and methods for conducting independent research in the area of avian behavior, conservation and ecology.'

Quite academic in description. Spending two days in Monte Vista with the professionals from the National and State Wildlife agencies, asking lots of questions, listening to knowledgeable conversations between people who come every year, engaging with professional bird watchers who freely offer as much information as a person can possibly absorb, and watching the Rocky Mountain Sandhill Cranes interacting with each other and the thousands of Canada Geese in attendance, fulfills a good chunk of the class requirements for these two species in two days! Congrats on taking Ornithology 101!

Other license plates in the parking lots besides Colorado were Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Kansas, Florida and several from Canadian provinces. Some sought out bird events but others had, by word of mouth, heard about the event for years and finally decided to make an appearance. The weather on Saturday warmed, the wind picked up a bit but not bad, and the birds were feeding, moving from field to field and pond to pond making lots of noise! People made the rounds to each pullout stop, as did I, attempting to make sense of their wanderings, social interactions, and their 'conversations' with one another. Made for an entertaining and educational day.


Had this 33rd annual Crane Festival used the same photography technology as Crane Festival #1, with old fashioned rolls of film, with the same numbers of pictures taken this year, the results would have been enough rolls of negatives to stretch from Monte Vista to Alamosa, a distance of 15 miles, which may be an underestimate! The pictures when developed, placed flat upon one another may have stacked up to the highest dune at the Great Sand Dunes, a stack over 700 feet high!. Thank goodness for digital photography, snap hundreds of photos and avoid the expenses of processing and waiting time, put them on computer, and find your best photos within a few hours. Post on websites, tweet them, Facebook them, text them, message them, print one or two of the best to frame and hang on walls, sell in a gallery, snapchat them and launch them around the world in other ways of which I am unaware. And by then, we humans will have made enough chatter to match all the honking, cackling, squawking, gurgling, and other indistinguishable noises and gestures the geese and cranes make while in attendance. Maybe our human ways of communicating are not all that different than these noisy gesturing birds!

As of early April, there are still sightings and hearings in the SLV as sometimes the cranes are flying so high in the sky that they can be heard but not seen. The rear guard, as I call them, the ones who are in no hurry to get to summer areas, probably has, in my opinion, an ecological significance that has to do with food supplies, disease avoidance or something else. Whatever the reasons are, they help guarantee species survival. Mother Nature does her best to see to that.

More reading - allaboutbirds.org - Rocky Mountain Sandhill Cranes. Monte Vista Crane Festival.

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