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Sandhill Cranes Stopover San Luis Valley

When the opportunity presents, I wouldn't want to miss taking photos of wild animals and birds. I have never planned or consciously traveled to shoot wildlife photography. The distance of my lens only goes up to 200 mm. Perhaps the limited reach proximity of my zoom lens has kept me from pursuing wildlife photography.

Having read and told that between 20,000 to 23,000 migratory Sandhill Cranes will congregate within a small radius distance spurred my curiosity. Rick Spitzer’s email invitation and presented opportunity were hard to forgo. Rick Spitzer is the Co-Founder of the Vail Valley Art Guild Photographers, a Naturalist and Wildlife Photographer. His two other enthusiastic cohorts were Scott Pope and Allan Finney. They were prompt and determined.

I left later and had to catch up. Just over 3 hours total, I made it to the San Luis Valley in Alamosa. The plan was to meet the following morning at 5:30 am and drive to the National Wildlife Refuge.

Once we arrived on location, Rick imparted his knowledge about the sandhill cranes, shared other wildlife stories and quips.

One of the most memorable ones was when he asked, pointing to a flock of wild Geese in the air, “Do you know why the V shape formation of the flying geese is shorter on one side?” When I gave a blank look, he said: “there is less count of geese on one side.” 😜

Dusty ride from one spotting location to another. Driving ahead was Scott Pope in his German-imported RV. Scott is a great landscape photographer and panoramic enthusiast.
In early March, the Wildlife refuge staff mow large swaths of barley to a safe distance from public viewing. In this ‘Sedge’ of migratory Sandhill cranes, there is an estimated two thousand Lesser Sandhill Cranes joining from other flyways.
The hover before descend.
Mornings and evenings are the best time to view the Sandhill Cranes
The main crop grown in San Luis Valley around Monte Vista and Alamosa are potatoes, alfalfa, native hay, barley, wheat and vegetables like lettuce, spinach and carrots.
Birdwatchers and Photographers have to keep their cautious distance and observe trail signs or closure notices.
Not everyone have to be a photographer to enjoy the wonders of nature and wildlife
500mm on a full frame camera can get you close
The sound of sandhill cranes is unmistakable to those familiar with the bird. I will not forget it now.
Scott Pope and Rick Spitzer looking through the lens
Walking threesome
Antigone Canadensis (Sandhill Crane)
A group of cranes has many collective nouns: “sedge”, “siege”, “swoop of cranes”, “construction”, “dance”.
Rolling cries up in the air.
The cranes have graceful courtship dance. Once they form a pair, they are mates for life.
During the migration stopovers, single sandhill cranes will start pairing up.
Want more closeup?
Sunday Amish buggy ride to Church
During migration, Sandhill Cranes may fly up to 400 to 500 miles in one day, usually around the altitude of 6000 to 7000 feet. In the Rockies they take off up to 13,000 feet.
A pair of Great Horn Owls

The sandhill cranes are omnivores, eating a wide variety of seed, grains, frogs, lizards, rodents and other small creatures.

Coloradans should take time to see this magnificent migration. The sight and sound are absolutely amazing.
The Sandhill Crane subspecies stand about 4-feet tall and have a wingspan of up to 7 feet, weighing about 11 pounds
Capturing the Sandhill Cranes on video
Cranes are one of the oldest living birds on Earth. There are fossils found in Nebraska indicating their existence for 10 Million years!
My reward sticker for giving feedback to the Wildlife staff on duty
Created By
Raj Manickam
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©️ 2020 Raj Manickam