Commentary: Sandhill Cranes

Mar 20, 2013

Andrea Robinsong, who took these these photos at the Escalante State Wildlife Area west of Delta, has been reporting on the Sandhill Cranes in the area since they began arriving in early March. Both Andrea and Evelyn Horn have been counting birds at Fruitgrowers Reservoir in Eckert and the Escalante area where they rest and feed before flying north.

Evelyn has been keeping track of the numbers of cranes at the reservoir, and here is what she reports:

  • March 19: 500 cranes at Fruitgrowers Reservoir
  • Friday, March 22: 1000 cranes in the evening 
  • Saturday, March 23: 1200 cranes in the morning, only 160 that evening
  • Sunday, March 24: 500 cranes in the evening
  • Tuesday night, March 26: Evelyn Horn reports 1900 cranes at Fruitgrowers Reservoir. She says it was AWESOME and today should be just as magnificent.
  • March 27: 300 cranes at Hart’s Basin Wednesday evening

    Total Evelyn has seen so far this season: 8263

Robinsong had the following commentary on their migration:

"As long as anyone can remember, thousands of migrating Sandhill Cranes have staged overnight during their northward migration around Fruitgrowers Resevoir in Hart's Basin in Delta County Colorado. The annual Crane Days festival should have been held in Eckert in early March but there weren't enough cranes coming through the Basin.

I recently learned that the crane migration is actually right on schedule but the birds are staging at a new location west of Delta, at the Escalante State Wildlife Area.  I was present on March 10 at sunset as probably more than a thousand Sand Hill Cranes rained down all around me.  Wonderful! When the thermals form that will lift the big birds over the Grand Mesa, I expect there to be a great staging as the excitement and energy builds while the birds prepare for their great lift-off.

I think the mass of the birds have left their traditional Hart's Basin staging area as a direct result of climate change. Fruitgrowers Reservoir is owned and operated by an irrigation water company that has refused to consider the astounding array of migratory birds that utilize[d] the area.  Fruitgrowers Reservoir is an IBA, a nationally designated Important Birding Area but for the past five years the lake has been repeatedly drained.  There was no lake at all when the cranes arrived last Spring.

Like the Great Blue Herons, whose heronry was once the state's largest, like the Western Grebes whose state's largest nesting colony has been repeatedly flooded in the Spring, like the American Bitterns and the Sora Rails and the Virginia Rails that used to breed there, like the flock of 120 white pelicans that used to summer there, the now famous and community-loved Sandhill Cranes have left Hart's Basin."