Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Field Notes 3.4.12
Sunrise with the Sandhill Cranes.
Just a glimmer of light illuminated our path when we left the house at 5:30 a.m. and drove west to the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. When we parked at the pull-out near the first big slough we could hear the cranes and geese but could barely see them on the dark valley floor. The sky began to turn orange as the sun rose over the rim of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. We ate breakfast burritos, drank our coffee and settled in for the crane show. Several vehicles pulled in next to us. Out popped birders with camera equipment. We are used to being alone at the refuge but the sandhill cranes draw observers from across the state and beyond.
The full sun revealed hundreds of sandhill cranes to the south and west. Many, many geese and ducks shared the marshes with the cranes. American coots swam nearby. A flock of red-winged blackbirds landed in the dried cattails, their songs added a sweet chirp to the cranes’ chorus and geese’s glee. The cranes became more and more restless and we saw several engage in mating dances. As the cranes began lifting off, the geese and ducks added to the flocks filling the brightening sky. What a lovely sight.
After leaving the refuge we drove up Rio Grande County Road 3 East to Home Lake where we saw a bald eagle in a tree overlooking the river. Heading east across Stanley Road we spotted sandhill cranes in the center pivot fields, in a pasture with a herd of cattle and even in the chico and rabbitbrush in Alamosa County. Back in Alamosa we stopped at Riverwood Pond and saw mallards, buffleheads, Canada geese and ring-necked ducks.