The cranes are heading north again.
Several to several hundred have already been spotted in Hart’s Basin near Eckert. Larger numbers will congregate as the weather warms up and good weather for flying dominates.
Although the Black Canyon Audubon Society is not hosting Eckert Crane Days due to COVID-19, it encourages all nature lovers to take a trip to Fruitgrowers Reservoir (Hart’s Basin) to witness the annual migration of these inspiring birds and also to listen to their calls in the counties of Montrose and Delta.
According to the National Audubon Society, 25% of the world’s population come to Fruitgrowers Reservoir with larger cranes each spring. Your typical route leads from the Bosque del Apache in New Mexico to the Monte Vista State Wildlife Area in Colorado, on to Eckert and finally to the Gray’s Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Pocatello, Idaho. From here, lifelong partners distribute themselves for the breeding and rearing of young.
Your stay at Fruitgrowers provides a good habitat for food and shelter, a much-needed break on your way. Their diet consists mainly of plant material such as grain, roots, berries and seeds, but they also depend on insects and snails. The shallow water of the reservoir provides protection from predators at night.
Cranes travel 200 miles per day at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. It is a dangerous time for them and habitat conservation is critical to their survival.
At one time, their numbers declined due to hunting and habitat loss. Currently, crane populations in the Rocky Mountain Corridor are booming due to research, protection measures, ongoing studies, and improved management.
If you’ve seen sandhill cranes this winter, it is most likely from a group that hibernates in Delta County and will depart when the cranes arrive from New Mexico. These wintering cranes can usually be seen along US 50 if you are driving north from the Delta, or along the G-50 road in the Escalante State Wildlife Area. There have also been some sightings near the Uncompahgre River around Montrose in recent years.
If you haven’t seen cranes, they are exciting to watch. The best time of day to catch the newly arriving cranes is in the late afternoon when they fly into Hart’s Basin or mid to late morning when they take off. New groups arrive from early March to mid-April most days and usually only stay one day.
To get to Fruitgrowers Reservoir from Delta or Montrose, take Colorado 92 east to Colorado 65. Travel north to Eckert and turn right (east) on North Street. The reservoir is approximately 1 to 1.5 miles from the intersection. There is a trigger in front of the reservoir, which is usually good for viewing. There is also a parking lot near the reservoir and additional vents along the road. Cranes aren’t the only birds to look for. Keep an eye out for water, shore and songbirds. The reservoir is home to many species and has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. More than 200 species have been sighted.
For many of us it is an annual excursion and its arrival is one of the great harbingers of spring.
For additional information and daily counts, eckertcranedays.com is a great website. You can also find a list of the species that have been sighted at the reservoir on ebird.org. For information on local bird watching, excursions and programs, visit the Black Canyon Audubon Society’s blackcanyonaudubon.org website or their Facebook page.