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

“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.

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."