'Here come the cranes again, flying overhead like they always do...'
To the tune of the Eurythmics song - "Here Comes the Rain Again." Twice a year the Sand Hill Cranes move, north in the summer and south in the winter. The Sand Hill Cranes have not missed one of their own human sponsored Monte Vista Crane Festival weekends ever, as they have been having their own fest here for hundreds of thousands of years.
Not that Sandhill Cranes or Canada Geese or other migrating species can read calendars, but through thousands of generations, these creatures have an internal clock that tell them when it is time to be on the move! Their 'internal clocks' are a combination of evolutionary changes in hormones, body organs, diet, and behavior, everything contributing to them responding to stimuli in the environment, more daylight for one, and all for one grand purpose, survival. There are risks to migrating for individuals in the populations due to weather, predators, and limited food supplies in some years, but overall, migration has led to longevity of the species, the name of the game for life on Earth.
'Migration,' as defined by German ornithologist Hans Gadow, 'is the wandering of living creatures to another, usually distant, locality in order to breed there; this implies a return, and the double phenomenon is annual.' I mention Hans, as people came from as far away as Germany and China this year to witness the migrating cranes! Bird watching ranks high on the list of hobbies worldwide, from people in their backyards recording bird species at their feeders, to others who travel the world to watch and witness this amazing feat. This is what the spring Monte Vista Crane festival is for - to allow humans an opportunity to witness and learn about migrations with all the participating governmental agencies from Federal, state and local wildlife divisions who all work together to insure the migration patterns remain as stable as possible. For instance, grains are grown by different farmers each year in different fields to insure a food supply for the guests of honor.
According to Luke at the Colorado Division of Wildlife office in Monte Vista, the Crane numbers are good this year, as well as the Canada Geese populations who intermingle with Cranes and they all get along! There does not seem to be much of a language barrier as I stand there looking out across the fields where the cranes speak a cackling language and geese communicate with a honking language. It can be rather noisy at sunrise as the morning light prompts the thousands of cranes and geese to begin communicating. Luke did say they also began arriving early in February and then the rest of the population, who winter about 100 miles south of Albuquerque at the Bosque del Apache along the lower Rio Grande, begin their trek north, following the river to their staging area in the natural wetlands a few miles south of the town. Luke expects some Cranes may linger in the valley another month or so before they head north and west to their summer homes. This staggering of migrations is also good for survival so as to take the pressure off food supplies.
As Luke and I both observed, by late morning on Sunday March 12th, for unknown reasons this year, there were many 'squadrons' of cranes flying directly north from the rounded land mark of San Antonio Mountain to the south, bypassing the normal Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge and continuing to fly out of the San Luis Valley to the northwest over the low spot in the mountains at Cochetopa Pass. We both speculated at the reasons and we both agreed that the weather was so perfect for flying that these groups saw no purpose in stopping at their usual rest area.
The weather is absolutely perfect for crane and geese watching right now and the Colorado Division of Wildlife can provide people with locations in the valley on where to find these twice a year visitors to the Valley. Monte Vista Division of Wildlife - 719-587-6900. Go see'em. Makes for a fun few hours when you need to change things up a bit. Another version of March Madness!