2013 Sandhill Crane Counts

Crane Counts for Fruitgrowers Reservoir at Hart’s Basin

CRANE COUNTS for 2013              (Hart’s Basin Crane Hotline 970/835-8391 is another source of crane counts)

Welcome to the crane count page.  To reference previous years’ crane counts, scroll to the bottom.  We would also like to know how many cranes and different species of birds you witnessed when visiting Fruitgrowers Reservoir.  Please leave your counts in comment section at the bottom of this page and we’ll be sure to include those that contribute to our collective understanding.    When I receive information and permission to publish phone numbers and events or other links, I will do so.   Thanks!   – Jim

In the Spring, SANDHILL CRANES tend to land at the Reservoir after 4:30 p.m. and may land as late as sunset, and on rare special nights have been known to land after dark.  Liftoff generally occurs after 10:00 am – usually after the mid-morning winds provide an uplift to help give them the elevation to clear the Grand Mesa.

APRIL 20 (Saturday)  

APRIL 19 (Friday)  – 0 – Evening count.  Counts by others ranged from 11 to 40 throughout the day.

APRIL 18 (Thursday) – 3

APRIL 17 (Wednesday)  

APRIL 16 (Tuesday) 80 –

APRIL 15 (Monday) 

APRIL 14 (Sunday)  

APRIL 13 (Saturday) 30

APRIL 12 (Friday) 45 –  My apologies for not getting this post until 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.  I guess I was in shock from returning from the Reservoir around 6:45 or so with the crane count in my head, but confused by the other things I saw there:  FISHERMENPERSONS!  Five.  One fishing from the bank, two several yards from the road bank in waders, and two more, east of the inlet in little pontoon fishing boats even further away from the road. This was no bamboo pole and bobber operation – they were using pretty fancy gear from the looks of it..

Seeing a Skimmer last night and folks fishing tonight – I don’t know which was the stranger sight.   I should have stopped and talked with them, because as I drove home my mind kept filling with more questions:  Did they know about the water quality of the reservoir?  Were they really after carp?  Catch and release carp?  Or, hopefully, they were trying to collect fish for some scientific study (although none of their vehicles had government plates).  If this mystery is ever resolved I will share it with you.

APRIL 11 (Thursday) 125 –  This is Jim Wallace’s number; I only managed 25.

The misery of the past two days behind us, tonight at the reservoir was far more welcoming – and rewarding . . . and perplexing

I easily added some new birds to the Other Species list: Redhead (hoping for Canvasback), Swallows too distant to get specific, Red-tailed Hawk . . . and the stunning Black-necked Stilt who performed close enough to fill the binoculars, working next to the three unimpressed Avocets, busy with the particulars of picking at the mud, stabbing here and there.

It was while watching the Stilt when I noticed a low flying bird which I first thought was a gull, but something was different, so I refocused the binoculars to it when I saw it skim four or five long grooves in the water during an unbroken flight.  And I saw the bill was bigger than any gull’s and it was very red.  There are some moments you wish you didn’t witness and for a while this felt like one of them.  A Black Skimmer has no business in these parts and I saw it alone.  If I had a witnessing companion then it would have been the perfect experience.  (But I suspect that if I heard the report I am giving you, I would retain a bit of skepticism if almost anyone else told me they saw a Black Skimmer in Fruitgrowers.)  I looked for another performance but did not see any.  However, later as it grew darker a pair of what likely were Skimmers flew overhead – flying like nothing that was normal for late in a Spring evening at Fruitgrowers.

I harken back to long ago during a discussion of a rare bird sighting on the prairies east of Fort Collins when one of my professors, Dale Hein, said that when it comes to Spring migration anything can happened, and another prof standing nearby, Ron Ryder, just grinned and nodded in agreement.  So with that, I post  my sighting here and hope for confirmation from others,  both for the sake of my credibility and for the sake of someone else having the thrill of witnessing such a bird in such a place.  – Jim Durr

APRIL 10 (Wednesday) 60 – At Least

APRIL 9 (Tuesday) – No Count – The snow storm made the count impossible.

APRIL 8 (Monday) 100 – I50  Leftovers?   With all the  chilly wet waterfowl weather came one of my favorites – Yellow-headed Blackbirds, plus snow goose and Franklln’s Gull

APRIL 7 (Sunday) 150 – I only saw 18 tonight, but Evelyn’s reporting 150 saying that Jim Wallace’s report comes from the cranes that were North of the road on the  Figure 4 Ranch and hadn’t made it to the water when I was there (7:30 p.m.) – Jim

APRIL 6 (Saturday) 200

APRIL 5 (Friday) 125 – We may be entering the end of the migration, so I’m not expecting anymore big nights of a 1,000 or so.

APRIL 4 (Thursday) 140 –

APRIL 3 (Wednesday) 110 –

APRIL 2 (Tuesday) 450 – Or so

APRIL 1 (Monday) 500 – another challenging night for counting

MARCH 31 (Sunday)   600 to 850 –I came up with the smaller number, although I did hear some cranes that I couldn’t see.

MARCH 30 (Saturday)   300+

MARCH 29 (Friday)   400  –    Or close to it.

MARCH 28 (Thursday)   750 to 1,000  –    I counted earlier and couldn’t check it at sunset

MARCH 27 (Wednesday)   300  –   Went to rookery by the dam to look for cormorants but found none.  But what I did see was a solitary Western Grebe – not enough for a dance, it’s a something to be hopeful for.

MARCH 26 (Tuesday)   1,500 +/-   They were all over the place.

MARCH 25 (Monday evening)   1,200  –  There could be fewer but I don’t think by many.  First time all season cranes were on the North side of the road and reservoir.  Lot’s of movement after 7:00 p.m.

MARCH 24 (Sunday evening)   450 – 500  –  Another cold evening counting cranes from a long distance to the southwest on Vela’s ranch.

MARCH 23 (Saturday evening)   75  –  There could be a few more than that.  Sure was cold this evening.

MARCH 22 (Friday evening)   150-160

 Note:  Carol Ortenzio left a note estimating over 2,000 cranes started flying from near the Escalante Wildlife Area this (Friday) morning around 10:00 am.  She found most of the birds on the north side of the Gunnison River.  Thanks, Carol.

MARCH 21 (Thursday evening)   1,200,   – Evelyn Horn’s estimate.up updated from 1,000

MARCH 20 (Wednesday evening)   800,   That’s my best guess because there is a lot of movement around 7:00 p.m.

Note:  I was in Delta late this afternoon after an alert from Jim Ward that many cranes were dropping down West of town.  I drove out and saw at least three times as many cranes there.  I suspect there was a total of at least  2,500 cranes on both side of the Gunnison – on farm land East and South of the Escalante Wildlife Area.  I don’t know this area very well to know all the places to look for cranes, but they were there in abundance.  I saw them from Sawmill Mesa Road on the south side of the River and from G50 Road on the North side of the River.  I don’t have any suggestions for where or when to view their liftoff tomorrow morning.

MARCH 19 (Tuesday evening)   80,   The last group of about 20 arrived about 6:55 p.m.

MARCH 18 (Monday evening)   44,  Same birds as yesterday?

MARCH 17 (Sunday evening)   40,

MARCH 16 (Saturday evening)   25,  –or so . . . at 7:30.  If I counted at 7:15 it would have been zero, but these few must have walked out of the bushes to the water’s edge after seeking shelter from the storm front that came through 45 minutes earlier with thunder, lightning, wind, rain , sleet, and hail.  The ducks and geese, of course, were fine staying out in the middle of it all.

MARCH 15 (Friday evening)   38,

Comment Update from Marcy Peterson  received 2013/03/14 at 5:43 am –    “After not seeing much at the basin , I ventured down to Delta and the Escalante Wildlife Area and saw as many as 2500. They were in the wildlife area and also in the neighboring farmers fields.”
I just found this observation from Marcy after I posted the March 14 count.  This confirms to me, along with Jim Ward’s observations from California Mesa, that the Escalante has been graced, to this point, with far more Crane visits.

MARCH 14 (Thursday evening)   100,  At his point it seems that at least as many, and probably more, cranes are migrating through to the Gunnison north of Delta.  Observations from California Mesa suggest that the Cranes are migrating west a little more South than we are used to . . . so far.

The water level at Fruitgrowers Reservoir is uncharacteristically low, which has left the north side of North Road dry and a lot of the flats on the south side without water, which, this evening enabled some adult to allow a couple of kids to walk out on the south side, guaranteeing that cranes would not land in that area . . .  like they have been lately.

Regarding the swans, they did not leave the area and showed up with last year’s cygnet.  Between my eyes and Sibley’s, the verdict:  Tundra Swan

MARCH 13 (Wednesday evening)   300, Approximately.  Tried to determine if Swans were Trumpeter ( as one good birder thought on the 8th) and a Tundra (as another good birder thought on the 12th) but while I was setting up the scope (5:50 p.m.), Cranes started dropping from the sky.  The Canadians, preferring goose music, complained loudly.  The swans, who, like the geese, didn’t like what was happening to the neighborhood and took to their wings before I could figure them out.

March 12 (Tuesday evening)   12, Evie’s count.  I was there earlier and saw none.

MARCH 11 (Monday evening)   0, Zero, Zed, Nada.  So much for conventional wisdom.

MARCH 10 (Sunday evening) I saw no cranes at 5:30 pm  DST.  At 7:30 pm – well after sunset- I managed to see 25 Cranes along the water’s edge.  There may have been more, but I don’t think there could have been many more.

MARCH 10 (Sunday morning)  –  Reporting for duty!  Jeanne and I returned just before the Storm Front came through on Friday night.  Given the weather I didn’t bother to look until this morning.

Zero –  I saw no cranes at 9:30 am  DST.  That’s not to say there were no cranes, it’s just that none were obvious to me.  However, From our place west of Fruitgrowers we heard, but did not see, a few cranes that seemed like they were low overhead and then as if they were in a farm field to the west of us.  The Conclusion:  could be migrants or could be some of the wintering locals exercising their wings.

Otherwise, at Fruitgrowers it was a Mostly Mallard Morning, along with a few Pintails, Coots, Teals, gulls and other feathered beings I did not have time to sort out.

Our local lore suggests that March 10th is a common first date for a significant arrival of cranes migrating from the San Luis Valley.  I would not be surprised if that is the case this year – foul weather for a couple of days followed by a sunny, high-pressure day like we have today.  I WILL check it out this evening and see if  it’s tonight or, perhaps, tomorrow night for first significant number of Sandhills.

March 8 (Friday) about 3:10pm.  Karen reported hearing cranes above Hotchkiss.  No suggestion in her comment as to a number.  [I will add to these date entries as I receive them – at this point I have no info about cranes at Fruitgrowers Reservoir / Hart’s Basin.]