Yampa Valley Crane Festival takes flight this weekend | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa Valley Crane Festival takes flight this weekend

Sandhill cranes go beak to beak while feeding in a field just west of Steamboat Springs in 2012. The cranes were part of a larger flock that gathers each year in the field.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Nancy Merrill remembers the first time she saw a sandhill crane.

“I got out of the car — literally we had just arrived at our new place — all of a sudden this huge bird flew over us,” said Merrill, who lives in Hayden. “It was a sandhill crane. All I could think was ‘I’m home.’”

On that day in 1998, it happened to be the same day she and her husband, avid birders from Chicago, moved to the Yampa Valley full time.

If you go

What: Yampa Valley Crane Festival
When: Thursday, Aug. 30, through Sunday, Sept. 2
Where: Guided tours near Steamboat Springs and Hayden, Bud Werner Memorial Library and other locations
Schedule: ColoradoCranes.org

“I had no idea this was the center of crane activity in the valley,” Merrill said. “Lo and behold, there they were right near our property — I suppose in a way, they chose me.”

Merrill, founder and president of the Colorado Crane Conservation, was also one of the founding members who helped create the Yampa Valley Crane Festival — a September tradition since 2012.

“What I love about cranes is that they’re the oldest living species of birds on earth, yet we get to see them right here in the Yampa Valley,” Merrill said. “When we see them, we see something from the past, and when you hear them, it’s so distinctive. It’s like a call from the past.”

The iconic species forages for food, dances in the fields and prepares for their migration south to their warmer territory as the air turns crisp and fall descends on the Yampa Valley.

Their presence here led to the festival that is celebrating its seventh year this week in Steamboat Springs and Hayden. Festival headquarters is the Bud Werner Memorial Library.

Events range from guided crane viewings, bird walks, live raptors on the library lawn, an all-ages “Birds of Prey” talk with live birds, presentations by greater sandhill crane experts, workshops, family activities, a community picnic at the Carpenter Ranch, a sketch-a-bird workshop with Chula Beauregard and more.

All events are free unless indicated otherwise. A few events with limited space require registration like the guided crane viewings. There are still spots available.

“In our little area, we have maybe 1,200 greater sandhill cranes that migrate here,” Merrill said. “They’re not rare with a number like that, but they’re also not common. So when you see them, it feels really special because they are so unique and are only here for a little while.”

Merrill said HawkQuest is sure to be a crowd pleaser with an educational booth where festival attendees can visit with live raptors, including a bald eagle, Peregrine falcon, Harris hawk, barn owl and great-horned owl. HawkQuest will also offer a special live raptor photo shoot with these same birds — a session geared for photographers at all levels.

Each year the festival features new speakers, and this year, the lineup includes Paul Tebbel, crane expert and former director of Nebraska’s Audubon Rowe Sanctuary, and Jennifer Ackerman, author of the New York Times best-selling book, “The Genius of Birds.”

New topics and sessions include the Friday presentation with Pam Liu on “Cranes in Chinese Culture” and Saturday’s keynote speaker Anne Lacy, research coordinator for the International Crane Foundation. Other events that will debut at the festival is “Optics 101,” a talk by Chip Clouse of Front Range Birding Company, and the world premiere of the award-winning documentary, “Free like a Crane,” created by French filmmakers Maxence Lamoureux and Arnaud Devroute.

Lamoureux will be at the Saturday event to discuss the film that features Eurasian Cranes and their migration from Estonia to Ethiopia.

“My main goal is to let people who had a special bond with nature talk about their passion, their imagination,” Lamoureux said. “I think filming the passion of people is the best way to spread the word. We have one planet, and we share it with the other humans and the animals.”

To see the full Yampa Valley Crane Festival schedule visit coloradocranes.org.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.

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