Crane lovers can see these big birds at Yampa Valley Festival in September

A Greater Sandhill Crane takes flight during a fall premigration activity along the Yampa River near Hayden. The 2013 Yampa Valley Crane Festival is set for Sept. 6-9.

A sandhill crane jumps in an exuberant dance during the bird’s fall migration along the Yampa River in northwest Colorado.

The Lark Bunting may be the official state bird of Colorado, but no lark or other bird attracts the attention given the sandhill crane.

From once being considered little more than a stopover point for sandhill cranes, parts of Colorado now have sizable year-round populations and by extension a sizable population of sandhill-crane lovers who annually celebrate the cranes’ return.

The Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge and parts of Delta County may rank as the top two crane-viewing areas in the state, but Steamboat Springs, Hayden and the Yampa River Valley are close behind.

In fact, so many cranes wander through the Yampa Valley that two years ago a group of hunters proposed a crane-hunting season, a move that brought an immediate and vocal push-back from bird lovers.

“Sandhill cranes are a real iconic, charismatic mega fauna,” said Nancy Merrill, a member of the Yampa Valley Birding Club who helped spearhead the antihunting petition. “They’re part of what makes this part of the world special.”

Merrill and some friends founded the nonprofit Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition to help sustain public focus on protecting the birds, and now, instead of a hunting season, the area holds the Yampa Valley Crane Festival.

This year’s Yampa Valley Crane Festival takes place Sept. 6-9 in Steamboat Springs and Hayden and features crane-viewing sessions, expert speakers, films, family activities, a crane art show and more.

All scheduled events are open to the public and free.

“Cranes evoke strong emotions in humans and enrich our lives by their presence,” said Barbara Hughes, another crane coalition cofounder. “This festival will inspire people to continue protecting this amazing creature and its habitat.”

Among the activities planned for the festival are talks given by three crane experts and a special exhibit and presentation by internationally renowned conservation photographer Michael Forsberg, author of the coffee-table sized book, “On Ancient Wings — The Sandhill Cranes of North America.”

Also scheduled is a presentation by wildlife biologist Rod Drewien, one of the most-renowned experts on the Rocky Mountain Greater Sandhill Crane population.

“After the inaugural year’s resounding success, we know this festival will continue to give people a better understanding and enjoyment of the cranes that breed, roost and stage in the Yampa Valley,” Merrill said. “This is a chance to learn more about crane science, explore the art that these magnificent birds inspire, and get out on the ground to enjoy their company.”

More information and a schedule of events is available at


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