Crane coalition camera offers glimpse inside nest near Steamboat (with video)

Project allows public, researchers to observe the day-to-day life of the greater Sandhill crane

Once again wildlife lovers in Northwest Colorado will have an opportunity to get an up-close and personal peek inside the lives of greater Sandhill cranes thanks to Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition’s nest camera.

The coalition is livestreaming a Sandhill crane nest located in a secluded spot in Northwest Colorado near Steamboat Springs. This is the second year for the program, and program director Erin Gelling said it shows the importance of donations to the organization. She said this year’s livestream has been improved thanks to $7,500 from private donors.

“Our first year, our pilot year, we got it working enough to review everything and create the highlight videos that we have on our website. After last year, we were like ‘we need to make a few upgrades.’”

The improvements included new cables and adapters that are used to power the camera as well as a new Ethernet cable that transfers the images to a dish provided by Zirkel Wireless.

“The big push was to make it more reliable,” Gelling said. “We also brought in a new Ethernet cable so the camera can better connect to the wireless dish that Zirkel provided us.”

She said that Zirkel Wireless also offered a better transfer package that has helped improve the quality of the livestream.

Gelling said the improvements to the nest cam will give viewers insight into the daily activities of a pair of nesting Sandhill cranes.

The livestream is now up 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Viewers can watch a pair of cranes incubating eggs at their nest in Routt County, as well as ask questions to coalition experts, share comments, and learn about nesting Sandhill cranes.

This year Gelling said the coalition had planned to focus cameras on the same pair, Rocky and Athena, as in 2021. However, when the pair chose a different nesting location away from the camera setup Gelling said the coalition made the decision to move the camera. This year the camera focuses on another pair, Fred and Wilma.

“Last year the nest was really close to the camera, so we’re very fortunate for that,” Gelling said. “This year that pair nested away from the camera, but we were able to move the camera closer to the power source and a better location to view a different pair that are nesting within view of the camera.”

Gelling said the camera is not as close this year, but so far this spring it has captured the birds building the nest, trading places after a spring storm, and with any luck will also capture the first chick hatching, which is expected to happen sometime around May 15.

“It kind of changes every year the different things that you’re able to see on the camera,” Gelling said. “We started the camera live before the cranes actually started nesting … and it’s going really well. Part of the reason that we’re doing this is to educate the public, but it is also a chance to learn more about cranes ourselves.”

She said that the cameras have already revealed that the two pairs display different characteristics.

“They’re providing a lot of insight,” Gelling said of this year’s pair, Fred and Wilma. “They’re a little bit different than Rocky and Athena. They’re not as loud at the nest, they don’t unison call as much and we’re seeing a lot of different behaviors, which is really, really fascinating.”

The CCCC was founded in 2012 and is dedicated to the conservation and protection of Sandhill cranes and their habitat in Colorado. Every September, the organization presents the annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival in Steamboat Springs.

The camera program is ultimately possible thanks to grants from the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, WHILD fund, and with technical assistance and equipment provided by Zirkel Wireless and Photon Syndicate.

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