Crane festival soars into 34th year


MONTE VISTA—This year’s 34th Annual Monte Vista Crane Festival March 10-12 includes sunrise and sunset tours, photography workshops, raptor tours, field trips to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Penitente Canyon and more.

There’s a daily craft and nature fair with local artists, and Friday night’s movie is “Hoot”---about a group of young friends on a mission to save burrowing owls.

The 2017 keynote speaker is avid birder and Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas illustrator, Radeaux (

See or call the Monte Vista Chamber of Commerce at 719-852-2731.

From Whoopers to Sandhills
“When you have 5,000 cranes all making their rattling calls, it can be deafening,” says Scott Miller, wildlife biologist for the Monte Vista national Wildlife Refuge, where most of the 25,000 cranes congregate in early spring.

The silver-colored cranes stand 4-feet-tall and don a distinguishing red forehead and russet-flecked wings. They feed in the nearby fields by day and roost in the refuge’s wetlands by night. Sandhill cranes mate for life, Miller says, so visitors often see the bird's ritual courting dance.

“They jump up and down, flapping their wings and moving their necks,” he says. “They’re these big lanky birds yet their dance is so graceful.”

Folks who arrive early to the wetlands are often privy to another amazing spectacle when the cranes launch en masse at daybreak and head to their feeding grounds. “When they liftoff, it’s pretty incredible,” Miller says. “You can hear their wings and the sound of rushing wind.”

The Monte Vista event was originally called the Whooping Crane Festival because of a few dozen foster whoopers spotted as the sandhill cranes migrated through the Valley. Bigger and lighter in color, the whooping cranes were easy for bird lovers to spot. But over the years, the Valley's small whooping crane population petered out because of drought, mortality and failed breeding. The only pseudo success was a possible hybrid sandhill-whooping crane spotted a couple of years in the early 1990’s. By the year 2000, only two whooping cranes passed through the Valley. The only remnant these days is a unique sculpture fashioned from farm tools standing in front of the Monte Vista Safeway named “Cooper the Whooper.”  

Special speakers
The Pueblo-based artist Radeaux has been visiting Colorado’s San Luis Valley since the late 1960’s to see the sandhill crane migration in spring.

Cranes have inspired many of his stylized bird paintings, including one piece with two cranes, a dragonfly and leopard frog that is the official poster for the 2017 Monte Vista Crane Festival.
Radeaux is also the crane festival’s keynote speaker and will be discussing his 40-year journey as a nature artist and bird imagery in human culture. For example, he often uses sandhill cranes in his work that are similar to depictions on pottery from the ancient Mimbres culture of the North American southwest.

Lynn E. Wickersham, senior avian biologist for Animas Biological Studies in Durango, is another festival speaker. She and Radeaux worked together on the Second Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas, a project 10 years in the making. Wickersham edited the book, which gives information on the natural history of Colorado’s breeding bird species and maps with documented nesting areas. Radeaux created 275 color bird illustrations for the project.  

The atlas is being used by professionals to help identify bird breeding and nesting locations and minimize impacts caused by human activities. But the information is also great for folks just wanting to learn more about Colorado’s breeding birds, says Wickersham. The maps and other details can help birders find species, including rare ones.  

Wickersham will be speaking at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 11 at the Vali 3 Theater in Monte Vista. Radeaux’s presentation, “40 Years Painting Colorado’s Fauna,” is at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in the theater. The Second Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas will be available for purchase and signing.
For information on the Second Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas, visit

Kiwanis breakfast
The Kiwanis Club of Monte Vista will serve breakfast from 6-10 a.m. on Saturday, March 11 at the Ski-Hi Park Complex in Monte Vista. Enjoy all-you-can-eat pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs, and beverages for just $6 for adults and $4 for children.

Although the primary purpose of the breakfast is to serve you a delicious breakfast at a reasonable price, Kiwanis also raises funds to support ongoing and special community service projects. Some of the ongoing projects the club is involved in are dictionaries for third graders, school supplies to Bill Metz Elementary School, “Wreaths Across America”, “After Prom Parties”, treats to senior facilities, flags on holidays, floats in parades, coat collection, and support of Boy Scout activities. A couple of the special projects are support of the Faith Hinkley Memorial Park and Kids Connection.

Quilt raffle
Members of the Kiwanis Club of Monte Vista are sponsoring the Twentieth Crane Quilt Raffle.  Proceeds from the raffle primarily fund the Monte Vista Key Club Scholarship Program with remaining funds used for community service projects.

All of the Crane Quilts have been made from fabric supplied by Shades, Quilts, & Etc., owned and operated by Marilyn Davey. This year’s quilt featuring black crane silhouettes was pieced and appliquéd by Leah B. Clark and quilted by Deanna Brown.

There have been 16 SLV winners and three out of Valley winners. Janet Black of Monte Vista was the first winner followed by Janet Czyzewski, Carolyn Kline, Kay Lewis, Pat Davie, Colette Skeff, Brenda Anderson, Stacy Bliss, Dorothy Elliott, Larue Hawkins, Sonya Steinhoff, Helen Duran, SLV REC, Don Carpenter, Scotty Rivera, Pat Davie (two time winner), Staci Turner, Karen Howard, and Teresa Harrison.  

Tickets to win this 20th year quilt are on sale at one ticket for $2 or three tickets for $5. The drawing will be held during the Crane Festival on March 12 at 2 p.m. at Ski Hi Park in Monte Vista.  The winner does not need to be present to win. Tickets are available from Kiwanis members at the following locations: Del Norte Bank; Dairy Queen; Rio Grande Savings and Loan-Monte Vista; Wilbur Ellis Company; Tri County Senior Citizens; and Monte Vista CO-OP. Tickets will also be available at Ski Hi Park during the festival.