Snow Goose Festival worth trip to Lamar

Snow geese catch the morning light as they erupt from a field at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. A similar sight may been witnessed later this month during the High Plains Snow Goose Festival in Lamar.



Clouds of white geese fill the air around Lamar each February and you’re invited to share the spectacle.

Snow geese are: (take your pick) magnificent birds that fill the air with shrill, high-pitched calls; hard to hunt and harder to eat; sky carp.

Whatever opinion you might have of these gregarious birds, it’s worthwhile to head over the mountains this weekend to witness the ninth annual High Plains Snow Goose Festival in Lamar.

It’s estimated upwards of 55,000 snow geese will be stopping over in southeast Colorado during their spring migration.

The festival, most of which is free, includes tours, nature walks, art demonstrations, birding and hunting seminars and a banquet.

You might think it’s odd to feature a seminar on hunting these birds in the midst of a festival celebrating them, but biologists have long feared snow geese, which breed in huge flocks on the delicate Arctic tundra, are decimating their fragile habitat.

Snow geese are wary and fly in immense flocks, two traits making them difficult to hunt.

Experienced waterfowlers will present a hunting seminar from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday at the Lamar office of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, 2500 S. Main St. (719-336-6600).

The featured speaker for this year’s banquet is writer and photographer Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association.

Many events are free, including the gathering Saturday afternoon for western music and cowboy poetry.

What rhymes with snow geese?

WHAT: The ninth annual High Plains Snow Goose Festival, marking the migration of thousands of snow geese and other waterfowl

WHERE: In and around Lamar, along the lower Arkansas River and John Martin Reservoir.

WHEN: The organized events are Feb. 24-27, but many birds are there now.

HOW: Pre-register and see the complete schedule at http://www.highplainssnowgoose.com.

HOW TWO:  The Utah 2011 Snow Goose Festival is Feb. 25-27 at Gunnison Bend Reservoir, just west of Delta. Free. Information: 435-864-4316

Craniacs alert: In his delightful book, “Birds of Heaven,” author Peter Matthiessen relates a Cree tale about sandhill cranes in which “Crane carries Rabbit to the moon, a task that even Eagle has refused, and is rewarded with a beautiful red crown.”

Of the 15 recognized species of cranes, sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) are the most numerous at around 650,000 individual birds, almost as many as the other 14 species combined.

Each spring and fall, the sky over western Colorado reverberates with the cranes’ bugling calls, and witnessing the sandhill migration is a must-do for any bird lover and a should-do for all outdoor enthusiasts.

A small flock of sandhill cranes overwinters in Delta, spending most of its time in harvested corn fields on the west side of town.

Most of the cranes we see passing through Colorado have wintered in New Mexico, largely at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro.

Mid-February finds the cranes heeding ancient instincts and returning to breeding grounds far to the north.

Curiously, it’s the smaller cranes that have the longest migration.

Some cranes fly 2,600 miles or more, winging from Mexico and southern New Mexico to the white expanses of Siberia, where they somehow manage to nest and raise their young before approaching winter sends them back south.

Crane festivals attract throngs of birders mesmerized by the promise of seeing huge gatherings of sandhill cranes “funnel like grains of sand into the narrow waist” of the north-trending flyway, as Matthiessen wrote.

Leaping, dancing, preening, bonding.

And that’s just the cranes.

Watch them March 11-13 at the 28th annual Monte Vista Crane Festival.

Three days of tours, seminar, dinners and various workshops.

Not to be outdone, Eckert annually celebrates the passing of the cranes with Eckert Crane Days, a two-day crane festival spread out over consecutive weekends.

This year’s Crane Days are March 20 and 27.

There’s never enough time to discover what’s awaiting you in the world outside.

WHAT: The 28th annual Monte Vista Crane Festival

WHEN: March 11-13

WHERE: In and around the San Luis Valley and the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge

HOW: Make lodging reservations soon. Information at http://www.cranefest.com.

HOW TWO: The Eckert Crane Days this year are March 20 and 27. More at http://www.eckertcranedays.com.


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