Thousands upon thousands of Sandhill Cranes flock to the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge every March. And it’s not by accident. The refuge staff work hard to maintain healthy wetlands and barley fields to attract cranes in large numbers. Just before the crane fest, staff mow large swaths of the barley fields close to public viewing areas. The sunrise and sunset tours take birders to these “hotspots,” where you might see upwards of eight thousand or more cranes. Wildlife experts host the two-hour-long tours, highlighting interesting facts about Sandhill Cranes along the way, like how they mate for life. You’ll see the crane’s graceful courtship dance and hear their unique rattling calls. You might even see them fly overhead en masse.
“Here you can get pretty close to the cranes,” says refuge manager Suzanne Beauchaine. “And then we’ve got the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background. It’s an incredible setting.” Other possible wildlife sightings include hawks, eagles, coyotes, owls and a variety of duck species.
*Tours are Friday and Saturday from 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.; Sunday from 8-9:30 a.m.—and leave promptly from the Ski Hi Building at 2389 Sherman Avenue in Monte Vista. Wear cold-appropriate clothing (hat, gloves, winter coat, warm shoes, etc.). Spotting scopes will be set up at specific stops, but bring binoculars, water and snacks if desired. Bathrooms will be available at certain stops.