Sandhill cranes arriving

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Sandhill cranes gather in a pond at Bosque del Apache NWR. The cranes have started to return to the San Antonio refuge this week.

The first sandhill cranes have arrived, and more will be on the way soon.
“It’s really nice to hear and see them back,” said Sean Brophy, assistant Bosque del Apache NWR manager. “I think the numbers will be comparable to what we saw last year.
“Most of them are still up in the San Luis Valley in Colorado. They’re starting to show up at refuges at the north part of the state. They’ll be increasing in numbers down here during October.”
The weather will determine when the main push comes in, he said. If there’s a big storm up north, it will push more of them down at once.
Crane spotters will most likely hear the birds before they can see them, Brophy said. Cranes travel as high as 14,000 feet, and then they slowly descend.
“People may be hearing them, but they might be higher up the sky than you think, and will slowly circle down,” Brophy said. “So you may not see them at first. They ride the thermals high up in the air during migration.”
Some visitors may have misidentified the lone crane that did not migrate north from the refuge last fall as the first arrival, says refuge volunteer Gail Strempel.
“We do have one crane that never left, because he’s got a sore wing. He can only fly a little bit,” Strempel said.
Brophy predicts this year will be as good as any for sandhill crane watchers.
“I think it’s going to be a great year,” he said. “The fly-in and fly-out will still be spectacular. Last year, during the day, more of the cranes were feeding up north at Gordon S. Ladd refuge near Bernardo. They move back and forth between us and the state areas up north.”
Alas, no whooping cranes are scheduled to make an appearance. Brophy said it’s less than unlikely that a whooper will show up at the refuge again, although “as a biologist, I will never say never.”
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Festival of the Cranes, Brophy said. Registration is still open for events. People can register online at the Friends of the Bosque NWR website.