2019 Sandhill Crane Counts

2019 CRANE COUNT for Fruitgrowers Reservoir in Hart’s Basin – in Eckert, Colorado

In the Spring, Sandhill Cranes tend to land at the Reservoir after 3:30 p.m (MDT) and may land as late as sunset, and on rare special nights have been known to land after dark.  Liftoff generally occurs after 9:00 am (MDT) – usually after the mid-morning winds provide an uplift to help give them the elevation to clear the Grand Mesa.

We try to count Sandhill Cranes every evening anywhere they may roost along Fruitgrowers Reservoir.  This is an informal process, but we try to be as accurate and honest with you (and ourselves) as we can.  There are a handful of us counters who rely on each other.  Some evenings we get better counts than other.

We post previous years’ counts on the web site.  Go to Past Crane Counts at the menu at the top of the page. This information is best viewed as anecdotal information that suggest trends and offer the observations and biases of your reporter(s).

April 24 – 6+ Went bird watching and came across the six we saw and the few others we heard but didn’t see. For some reason, MP was there and she saw/heard them too.

April 22 – 0 Didn’t see any, didn’t hear any. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there weren’t any there. (7:45 pm)

April 21 – 20+ MP says 24. About 3 dozen White-faced Ibis sharing the shore with a small mob of pelicans.

April 20 – 22+/- Saw about 20 near the brush and 2 at roost around 7:00 pm. Also saw 25 pelicans and many Western Grebes in impressive courtship displays.

April 18 – 7 – MP

April 17 – 7 – MP

April 16 At dark – 7 Plus 2 picnickers at the table on “Crane Point” [which is actually Velas’ Point.] MP

As you can see we are nearing the end of 2019 crane count reports for eckertcranedays.com and it is time to resume out regularly-scheduled lives. We will keep an eye on things for the next several days and report on significant sightings, but don’t count on daily and timely reports. There will also (probably) be occasional accounts of other bird species sighted, as weather and opportunity allow.

April 15 Evening – 9+ After dark when we were sure we saw 7 shadowy outlines, we then heard at least 2 more from a different shoreline.

April 14 Evening – 10 – Again, all late arrivals.

April 13 Evening – 33 Most of these arrived to roost after 8:00 pm

April 12 Evening – 115-120 Weather much improved over the past couple of days but still unseasonably cool with some wind.

April 11 Evening – 16

April 10 Evening – 10 – Did the regular nine take on a plus one?

April 9 Evening – 9 – Looks like a pattern, doesn’t it?

April 8 Evening – 9 – MP

April 7 Evening – 52 – MP

April 6 Evening – 9 – “Not sure if it’s worth posting, and it took a long time to count, but here it is 9, yep that’s right 9. MP

April 5 Evening – 30 – MP

April 4 Evening – 195 – Another quiet night at the basin for Marcy.

April 3 Evening – 300 +/-2 – MP (and 16 pelicans)

April 2 Evening – 800 – And Marcy had them all to herself!

April 1, 5:30 pm 0
(April 2) Very early- 55 – This is a morning roost count because a post-sunset count was not possible last night. MP also saw 2 American White Pelicans and a great sunrise.

March 31, Evening 175 – A nicer evening according to MP.

March 30, Evening 425-450 – on another windy and cold night. MP

March 29, Evening 60 – Lots of wind and rain/snow mix. MP

March 28, Evening  115-120 – Marcy Peterson did the count on a windy night. “It’s been cloudy and windy all day, and the birds were quiet and hunkered down. -MP
Thanks, Marcy

March 27, Late Afternoon into the Evening  450-500 – The clouds lit up so beautifully after sunset we seemed to forget about the cranes . . . until the oranges and magentas and pinks faded.

March 27, 8:00 am Update: 2,800 – 3,000 A recount in the morning light revealed our low-light evening exuberance. After waiting for a big number for so long this spring, I guess I went overboard with all the late movements of cranes. My thanks to Ben who stayed near the cranes since 10:00 pm and said that no significant number of cranes flew from the area at first light. So I am confident that what I saw this morning is what was there last night.

March 26, Afternoon and Evening  3,500 + – At sunset I thought we were looking at a little over 2,000 and at that point was very happy with the show. I don’t recall ever seeing so many cranes arrive so late. Most of the late arrivals came in lower, not dropping from high out of the sky like they were doing from 3:30 until about 6:00 or so. By 8:00 pm a true count was impossible and in low light it was difficult to track from just where and how far away the latecomers were arriving.

A confirming count is in order in the morning . . . hope I can get there early enough before the initial crane dispersals. In the morning I hope crane watchers park their vehicles properly, and safely and respectfully use the roadway as drivers and pedestrians . Please temper the excitement of so many cranes with common sense.

March 25, Afternoon and Evening  850 +/- – At the end of the day a quick impression of the group might suggest a thousand, but after several counts I never got above 850. Today was the most pleasant of the season for watching cranes arrive and land . . . and even the several that flew over and not land in Harts’ Basin. [Addendum – Dave Galinat’s observations left him with an assessment that at least 1,000 cranes flew over the Grand Mesa today, bypassing Harts’ Basin altogether.]

March 24, Evening  180 to 200 – Marcy was there and concurs with this estimation.

March 23, Early evening  100 – This is an estimate at 6:15 pm . . . couldn’t stay much longer to get a final roost count. This may be a too-generous number. Heard cranes flying west of Hart’s Basin early this afternoon.

March 22, Early evening  400 or about 700 – Confused? I was. Just after 6:00 pm there were about 300 in the fields south of Velas’ farm and another 400 north of the “causeway.” About an half hour later, the 300 by Velas’ disappeared, and I don’t know where they went. I couldn’t wait until last light to see who returned at the very end of the day.

March 21, Early evening  600+ – Today’s weather was the opposite of yesterday. High overcast all morning; afternoon turned ugly as a strong cold front moved in, bringing big winds and rain in the bottom of the basin and snow just a little higher up. Apparently during this, last night’s cranes tried to leave but were turned back from going over the Grand Mesa. Around 2:00 pm Marcy witnessed the cranes in groups of about 75 -100 or so flying back to the SW and to friendly confines of Fruitgrowers Reservoir. This sort of thing is observed from time to time.

March 20, Early evening  550 – 600 – Beautiful day. From about 3:30 to 4:30 pm we observed about 1,000 cranes fly west and northwest past Hart Basin, bypassing Fruitgrowers Reservoir, mostly heading over the Grand Mesa. Some Bald Eagle activity around the reservoir made lots of ducks nervous. Speaking of being made nervous, also saw someone who thought that by turning on the emergency flashers he or she could park in the middle of the road.

March 19, Early evening  2 – Colder and windier than yesterday. Didn’t stay as late as I usually have been. From home (around 10:30 am) I heard last night’s cranes in the air and heading north over the Gran Mesa.

March 18, Early evening  until well past sunset    600 – An estimate – considering all the movement of cranes in low light. There may be a few more than that. First big chorus of crane song this season. I am clueless as to why it’s taken so long for a group of this size to show up.

March 17, Early evening  until well past sunset    50 – An estimate under dark conditions. I would be very surprised if there ended up being more than 75.

March 16, After Sunset     13 – Came in after 7:40. Couldn’t wait around for more.

March 15, Early evening     30-40 – Sort of like last night with fewer cranes and a couple more eagles.

March 14, Early evening     55 – Several small late-arriving groups. (If I quit right after sunset the count would have been zero.)

March 13, Early evening     57 – A day of rough weather ended gently.

March 12, Early evening     31 – Small groups roosting late. Cold and rainy day and evening.

March 11, Early evening     100 – Perhaps a couple more.

March 10, Early evening     130 – It looks like the number but could be as high as 145. Distant feeding and very late roosting in two locations made the count difficult.

March 9, Late afternoon     13 – Except for a few chunks along the shore, all the ice is gone from the reservoir.

March 8, Late afternoon     8 – I’m guessing these are probably the same cranes I saw yesterday. The weather was also like yesterday, only more severe. Reservoir ice is rapidly melting.

March 7, Late afternoon     8 or 9 – Spotted them at 5:00 pm, but the wind and rain came up and they disappeared, so there’s no telling if they ended day roosting at the reservoir.

March 6, Late afternoon     0 – Like yesterday, except colder, wetter, and windy . . . and a few more ducks.

March 5, Late afternoon     0 – After a warm sunny day the late afternoon became overcast and still. The Basin was remarkably quiet. Far fewer waterfowl. The huge flock of geese was greatly reduced.

March 4 , Late afternoon     20 – This was before sunset. After sunset this group became 12 and then smaller groups, so I don’t know what happened.

March 3 , Late afternoon     44 – These birds look and act like cranes actually in migration. Vocalizations seemed more migratory than local. Two pairs were already stained a rich brown.

March 2 , Late afternoon     5 – They were there and then they left to parts unknown. Persistently rainy day at the reservoir while lots of snow fall in the high country, which would likely keep cranes in the San Luis Valley a while longer.

March 1 , Late afternoon     0 – Reservoir ice is rapidly receding and more waterfowl are showing up to keep us busy while looking for cranes.

February 28, Noon      12 – Just a little warmup check of the reservoir. I suspect these are locals making the rounds. (Dave G. said he saw a group of about 100 about ten days ago that looked suspiciously migratory to him.) Saw some new birds species.

February 4 , Mid afternoon    0 –    First reconnaissance for crane season this year. I did not expect to find cranes so I was not disappointed when I saw none. I just needed to go down to see how things were and what other birds were around (see other species sighted page)