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Eckert Crane Days Draws Birders, 'Craniacs'

This past weekend was the 15th annual Eckert Crane Days event. People from across Colorado came to Delta County to witness the spring migration of the sandhill crane. 

It’s a clear morning at Fruitgrowers Reservoir in Eckert. There are about 30 people here waiting to see a flock of greater sandhill cranes take flight.

"We have it on 45 power so we so that we can bring the cranes in close," Susan Chandler-Reed with the Black Canyon Audubon Society says.

She’s showing people how to use a spotting scope so they can watch the birds as they forage in a field. 

bird watching, spotting scope, eckert crane days
Credit Laura Palmisano / KVNF
Susan Chandler-Reed with the Black Canyon Audubon Society using a spotting scope to get a better look at a small flock of sandhill cranes.

"You can see them with a higher magnification than with binoculars," Chandler-Reed says.  

The birds are tall and grey, with a red cap of bare skin on their heads.

"They are pretty easy to see," Sheryl Socorro of Grand Junction says. "They're such big bird." 

This is Socorro’s first time coming to Eckert Crane Days.

"I mean you can never see too many sandhill cranes or hear them," she says. "They have a wonderful bird call."

There are a dozen or so cranes here this morning. That’s a small number compared to the 1,500 that recently came through the area.

The cranes stay in New Mexico for the winter, and then fly through Delta County in March and April. When they start their spring migration, they stop in the San Luis Valley in Colorado for a few weeks before making their way north. The ones that visit Eckert usually stay one night then leave in the morning.

Evelyn Horn lives near the reservoir where the cranes rest before continuing their journey. She’s been watching for the bird for the past 25 years.

Horn also loves hearing the calls of the sandhill crane. 

greater sandhill cranes
Credit Carole Scott Photography
Sandhill cranes stand about four feet tall and have a six-foot wingspan.

"The trachea or the windpipe is four feet long approximately," she says. "The bird is approximately four feet tall so there’s as much windpipe as there is height of the bird. And that’s why they have such a strong voice that you can hear them for miles and miles."

Horn also runs a crane hotline that’s active in March and April. A fellow birder gives her a count of how many cranes landed at the reservoir that evening. Then she updates the voice message on her phone with the current information.

"[People] can call up and get a count of the birds." she says. "Now if I say 16 like I did last night most people won’t bother to show up. If I say 1,500 then a lot of people will show up."

The big crowds may not come out on days like this, but for diehard birders and ‘craniacs’ (crane super fans) like Horn and Chandler-Reed all it takes is a few birds to make them smile.

"Okay there they are, right at the horizon," Chandler-Reed says as the cranes take flight. "They have a long way to go today." 

Laura joined KVNF in 2014. She was the news director for two years and now works as a freelance reporter covering Colorado's Western Slope. Laura is an award-winning journalist with work recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, Colorado Broadcasters Association, and RTDNA. In 2015, she was a fellow for the Institute for Justice & Journalism. Her fellowship project, a three-part series on the Karen refugee community in Delta, Colorado, received a regional Edward R. Murrow Award.
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