A flock of sandhill crane viewers stare down their target Sunday morning near Steamboat Springs. The second annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival wraps up Monday with a full schedule of activities.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

A flock of sandhill crane viewers stare down their target Sunday morning near Steamboat Springs. The second annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival wraps up Monday with a full schedule of activities.

Cranes captivate during the 2nd annual festival

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Monday's Yampa Valley Crane Festival schedule

5:45 a.m. Sunrise crane viewing, Stock Bridge Transit Center, $5. Register by calling 970-846-5556.

9 a.m. Cranes and photography with Michael Forsberg, Wild Goose Coffee at the Granary, FREE

10:30 a.m. Crane story-time, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

Noon Crane conservation with Robert Skorkowsky, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

1 to 2 p.m. The art of birding with Joan Hoffmann, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE. Bring an image or passage that represents the inspiration of sandhill cranes.

2 p.m. “Raising Kid Colt” film screening, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

7 p.m. From Cranes to Plains with photographer Michael Forsberg, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

Find more information about the festival here.

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Several viewers watch as a flock of cranes fly overhead Sunday morning.

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Cranes fly through the early morning Routt County sky Sunday.

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Nancy Merrill points out cranes for eager spotters Sunday morning.

— You don’t voluntarily show up somewhere an hour before the sun unless you’re expecting enchantment, and dark and early Sunday morning, magic was on the mind as two dozen eager bird watchers piled into vans and set out from Steamboat Springs.

They found it, too, as the sun peaked over the mountains to color a gray morning, in a moment doing what was the purpose of the early expedition and, in fact, the entire weekend.

It shined a light on the sandhill crane, loitering at dawn Sunday in a riverside meadow. The cranes filled the air with their honking and, as the day came on, their numbers, taking flight to the oohs and ahhs of their enchanted fans.

“It was great. It was definitely worth the drive,” said John Tentler, who made the trip from Denver for the Yampa Valley Crane Festival. “I’ve seen cranes before but never in this concentration.”

Sunday’s early morning viewing marked only a small part of the second-year festival's long weekend in town, and its two dozen spectators accounted for only a fraction of those participating.

The day was filled with activities. There were bird-watching pontoon boat rides on Stagecoach Reservoir that filled up quickly they were so popular. Films, art projects and talks headlined activities at Bud Werner Memorial Library throughout the day, and it all happens again Monday, with another dose of sunrise viewing and a heap of activities across the county throughout the day.

Nancy Merrill, one of the event’s organizers and Sunday morning’s guide, said participation for this year’s events has been double that of last year’s. After a successful morning of viewing, even she was enchanted by it all.

“The cranes have performed,” she said, beaming. “Everyone who’s gone out to see them with our group has been able to see flocks. That’s the most important part!”

Even when things went wrong, as they did Saturday night when a storm rolled through during an evening viewing, things have worked out magnificently. Even though the wind whipped, the cranes flew. A Hayden-area farmer invited the whole watch party onto his property for a close encounter with the birds, and when the storm finally blew over, even more awaited, appealing to just the kind of geeky enthusiasm that flowed from Sunday morning’s bird watchers.

“We had a double rainbow,” Merrill said, “or, as I called it, a double crane-bow!”

It’s not over yet. The festival wraps up Monday with activities beginning with a 6:15 a.m. sunrise viewing trip that starts at the Stock Bridge Transit Center. That will lead the day for another day of talks and demonstrations, both in Steamboat Springs at the library, and in Hayden. The 7 p.m. keynote speech will be delivered by photographer Michael Forsberg at the library.

“We’ve really had a wonderful turnout, with people from New York, South Dakota and all over Colorado,” Merrill said. “It’s been really gratifying.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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