by Mari Tanabe
Every March, nearly 20,000 Sandhill Cranes descend on Monte Vista, Colorado, to spend six weeks resting before continuing their northward migration, a spectacle which draws tourists from across the globe and causes the population of Monte Vista to nearly double in size. So how did I find myself driving along a dirt road scouring the landscape for a single bird?
In addition to holding council meetings, visiting grantees, and meeting with community leaders, Regional Fellows enjoy getting to know the character of our region when we visit. This has included visiting landmarks like Stations of the Cross, sampling local favorites like the homemade pie at Sunflour Bakery in Monte Vista, and on this particular trip, viewing the infamous Sandhill Cranes.
Cathy Robbins, Hannah Staller, and I found the pull off for the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge around 1:00pm on April 6. “Are we in the right place?” Cathy asked. I had been wondering—and hoping—the same thing. There were no birds in sight and not a sign—a single feather, a stray squawk—to indicate they were anywhere nearby. Hannah, who was driving, tried one road and then another. We scoured the dry, yellow grass, the shallow ponds, and the leafless bushes for a glimpse of at least one of the 20,000 Sandhill Cranes.
“I see one,” I shouted, only to realize I was pointing at… a duck.
The road got bumpier. More duck sightings. We rolled down our windows in hopes of hearing the birds and even tried to replicate what we read might be their call. Finally, Cathy pointed to a bird about 100 yards away. Long legs, an elegant neck and pointed beak, dusty colored feathers; our first Sandhill Crane! We circled around the wildlife refuge a few more times. Several times, we shrieked in delight and pointed to a long, slender bird off in the distance, only to realize it was the original Sandhill Crane spotted from a different angle.
On the long ride back to Colorado Springs, I found myself contemplating a question: What wisdom can be gleaned from the experience of expecting to see 20,000 majestic Sandhill Cranes and instead finding just one? The answers came to me along the road. First, find joy in the simple things. After about 30 minutes of Crane-less searching, we began to comment that the ducks looked cute. We appreciated the weather, the unique landscape of the wildlife refuge, and one another’s company. Second, visit the sand cranes in March, not April. Finally, don’t be discouraged. We have not given up on the Sandhill Cranes and hope March of 2017 will be our year to witness the spectacle.
“At Half past Three, a single Bird
Unto a silent Sky
Propounded but a single term
Of cautious melody.”