12 acres of West Routt wheat secures return of sandhill cranes | SteamboatToday.com

12 acres of West Routt wheat secures return of sandhill cranes

When the sandhill cranes returned to the Yampa Valley March 7, they found significantly less snow on the ground than did this pair on April 1, 2014.

When the greater sandhill cranes returned to the Yampa Valley earlier this month in the midst of their northern migration, there was a sizable flock that hadn't forgotten Robert Bruchez's grain field on Routt County Road 70. It's not far from the north bank of the Yampa River east of Hayden and has a secure food source.

Nancy Merrill, of the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition, confirmed that the cranes are abundant this spring on the Bruchez place, where her organization purchased 12 acres of wheat specifically for the purpose of sustaining the large, highly socialized birds in the midst of their long journey.

"Lo and behold, they came back this spring," Merrill said. "This is a wonderful place to watch them. We offered (the rancher) a better price, so our cranes get to increase their fat stores and be in better shape for migration. We hope to expand the program."

Due to the unseasonably warm weather Northwest Colorado experienced in February, Merrill said she anticipated the cranes might arrive earlier in 2017 than is typical. But it didn't work out that way. The winner of the Crane Conservation Coalition's contest, Deb Silva, didn't capture the prize winning first photograph of a crane in Northwest Colorado near Moffat County Road 30 until March 7.

"I have to say, we were expecting them early this year because of the weather," Merrill said. "Then, we had a cold snap (in early March), and I think they stayed south."

The Cornell Ornithology Lab reports that the timing of bird migrations can be influenced by the length of daylight, changes in temperature and food supplies. Navigation is still a mystery, but the position of the sun, stars and even Earth's magnetic field could be factors.

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Merrill said sometimes 50 to 60 cranes show up at the wheat field on CR 70 between 7 and 7:30 a.m. and advises people who want to get a good view to stay in their cars — the birds are't far from the road.

"The temptation is to get out of your car," she said, "but you'll spook them.

Nearer to Steamboat, there are similar numbers of cranes gathering even earlier in the morning, right at sunrise, on Routt County Road 42, across the road from the Marabou subdivision.

It will be another couple of weeks before the bulk of the cranes continue north and the birds intending to raise their chicks here pair off and move away to nesting sites.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

“Crane-ing” their necks for Sandhill photo

The Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition announced that Deb Silva, of Craig, was its grand prize winner in the 2017 First Crane Sighting Contest after she submitted the first photo of a migrating sandhill crane captured anywhere in the Yampa Valley.

Silva spotted a pair of the birds at 6:15 p.m. March 7 on Moffat County Road 30 outside Craig. More than 40 individual reports and photos of returning greater sandhill cranes were submitted during the contest.

Regional prize winners included Stephen Riley, Steamboat Springs; Holly Harker, Craig; Martha Carroll, North Routt; Tom Kostur, West Routt; and the Fernley family in South Routt. A special “kid prize” was awarded to Riley Gunn, 4.

The Crane Conservation Coalition is the presenter of the annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival Aug. 31 through Sept. 3.

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