The Valley


The sky fills with Sandhill Cranes.

The Valley is flat, billiard table flat.  Oh, it’s a little rumpled along the edges. The massive, volcanic San Juan Mountains are to the west. East of here are the knife edged Sangre de Cristos.  Flat, almost treeless and now that its warmed a bit, there are dust devils scrolling across the dry alkali playas.  Sometimes the wind brings a little grit to the tongue.  All in all a very nice day.

Sandhill Cranes [Grus canadensis]
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains frame the east side of the San Luis Valley.

Sandhill cranes have been migrating through the San Luis Valley here in Colorado for thousands of years.  No one knows what the crane numbers looked like when mastodons roamed the valley or even if the cranes flew here then, but the 25,000 or so that are are here now may have it a little easier in some respects than their ancestors.  A swath of the valley is farmed land and the cranes feast on the grains left over from harvest.  Easy eats compared to the small vertebrates and roots foraged in the wetlands and flooded fields.

"Big Bird" Sandhill Crane petroglyph
Sandhill Crane Petroglyph etched in smoke-blackened rock shelter wall on the south end of the Valley. About 3,000 years old.

The Valley  (everyone calls it simply the Valley)  is heavily impacted by humans, cattle graze the meadows and ranchlands adjacent to the farm fields.  Water is moved all over the central and southern Valley (it’s a big valley, you could drop Connecticut in here) to irrigate some of the grazing areas, for those farms and to help out the wild beings that still call the Valley home at least some of the year.  Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge brings some of that water onto areas that were once dry and certainly didn’t provide for the thousands of waterfowl and wading birds that use them now.

Flying into the sun.

That’s why we are here, the calendar said it was still winter on our first of the season trip down here but those thousands of cranes aren’t too concerned about our concept of time.  They are heading north out of Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico.  Feeding and resting, they spend a few weeks in the Valley before moving on north to nest and summer from northern Colorado up through Idaho.  But for now their wild trumpeting calls, their impetuous and giddy dancing brings summer a little closer.

Sandhill Crane [Grus canadensis]
The wild disharmony of cranes shouted to the sky.
Sandhill Crane [Grus canadensis]
The dance begins.
Sandhill Crane [Grus canadensis]
Feel the excitement?
Sandhill Crane [Grus canadensis]
Talkin’ it over.
Sandhill Crane [Grus canadensis]
Sometimes feathers get a little ruffled.

10 thoughts on “The Valley”

    1. Thanks Judy for commenting! We are lucky that we have the San Luis Valley within our radius to be able to frequently enjoy such
      spectacles of nature. It’s not much further south at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico where “our” cranes join other migrating flocks of snow geese and ducks to spend the winter months. It is a wonder to behold.

      1. We thought it was a thrill when the Canadian geese flew over and nested on the little pond by the town where I lived in S.
        D. Can’t imagine what excitement the cranes would have caused, although they did nest in The sand hills of Nebraska to our south.

      2. Isn’t it always a thrill to see birds, mammals, wildlife of any kind whether they are nesting, caring for young or just doing whatever they do in their lives. As wildlife photographers, this is what we live for. Nice to hear your thoughts!

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