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  • Brodie Farquhar

International Crane Foundation takes an interest in Yampa Valley birds at Annual Crane Festival

The Yampa Valley Crane Festival starts Thursday.


Birders, and especially the sub-set of sandhill "craniacs," get excited this time of year, as sandhill cranes in the Yampa River Valley gather to prepare for winter migration. The 12th annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival is the focal point for crane enthusiasts, Aug. 31 through Sept. 3, with the festival featuring tours, workshops, film screenings and special speakers.


The keynote speaker is Dr. Richard Beillfuss, president of the International Crane Foundation, which works to preserve 15 species of cranes around the world and works in 50 different countries and five continents, to that end. The foundation works with local and national governments, conservation groups, landowners and businesses to preserve and enhance crane habitat, educate the public and encourage the conservation of cranes large and small – including a relatively small population of Greater Sandhill Cranes that nest and rear young in northwest Colorado and the Yampa River.


Based in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the foundation is gearing up for its 50th anniversary celebration on September 16, 2023. “It has been a challenging and productive 50 years,” said Beillfuss. “I suspect the next 50 years will be equally so.”


Beillfuss' keynote address, “50 years of Crane Conservation, Reflecting Back, Flying Forward” will be 1:30 to 2:45 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 2, in Library Hall, Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs.


Beillfuss hopes to share lessons learned from 50 years of conservation action, plus innovative ways to recover endangered crane populations and promote healthy wetlands, grasslands and ag lands.


In an interview, Beillfuss said climate change and rising ocean waters are a critical threat to crane habitats all over the world.


“Fortunately, we can anticipate what we might lose, and anticipate the new habitat that will be created by rising waters, and protect those lands now,” he said. As a professional hydrologist, he knows what rising sea waters will both destroy old and create new in terms of crane habitats, such as wetlands.


“I never cease to be amazed at how people, from all over the world, can come together to save cranes,” said Beillfuss.


As a result, millions of acres of habitat – for nesting and rearing young, food sources, summer and winter habitats – enjoy protections now and more will be protected in the years and decades to come.


Here in North America, the whooping crane came close to winking out, but the population has grown and stabilized, he said. So too with the sandhill cranes, which were hit by market hunters, then recovered, thanks to conservation efforts. Elsewhere, Africa's Grey Crowned Crane has declined in numbers but then stabilized.


Aldo Leopold speaker

Buddy Huffaker joined the Aldo Leopold Foundation in 1996 as a seasonal intern and has served as Executive Director since 1999. During his tenure the foundation has grown the Leopold Community by protecting the Leopold Shack & Farm.


“I think the public is still catching up witlh the meaning of Leopold's Land Ethic essay,” said Huffaker. Leopold wrote “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Huffaker said.


He sees progress where people understand Leopold's deeper meaning, that people do not live apart from the world, but are part of it. “And yet we've just seen the hottest June temperatures on record,” he noted. Gatherings to celebrate cranes are an opportunity to be reminded that our health and vitality are directly linked to the land and the life upon it, Huffaker added.


The foundation continues the Leopold family’s commitment to stewardship through the restoration and management of the 4,400 acre Leopold-Pines Conservation Area and by using this experience to inform and inspire other landowners to adopt and implement their own land ethic. Buddy has also served on state and federal advisory conservation committees and has participated in three White House Conferences on conservation and environmental education.


On Friday, Sept. 1, at Library Hall, Buddy will provide a quick biographical sketch of Aldo Leopold (but catch the showing of Green Fire for a full biographical profile of Leopold) and then focus on the people and events that have kept A Sand County Almanac relevant for 75 years, continuing to inform and inspire a conservation ethic all over the world. Following lunch, Buddy will lead a community book discussion of Aldo Leopold’s groundbreaking environmental classic.


A Detective Birder

Steve Burrows, a birder mystery writer, will deliver “From Birder to Birder Murder – the Mysterty Continues” on Friday, Sept. 1, 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., at the Library Hall. Burrows will quickly recap some of the material from his previous festival presentation in 2021 and then go on to discuss recent adventures in Antarctica, Singapore and especially Bhutan – where cranes take center stage.


Burrows was editor of a East Asia birding magazine in Hong Kong, when he get the hankering to write a mystery novel. “I needed a unique character,” said Burrows. Following the adage of write what you know, Burrows decided to make his detective protagonist an avid birder whose eye for detail helped him solve murder mysteries and find elusive bird species.


Burrows' first novels were set in Great Britain. His publisher suggested a shift to North America to expand the reach and popularity of the series, so Burrows set up a story that involved whooping cranes and their migrations. He drove the migratory route and incorporated those places into “A Dance of Cranes,” his sixth novel.


All his novels incorporate the collective or group term for that particular bird species, starting with “A Siege of Bitterns” in 2014 and upcoming is “A Nay of Pheasants” coming out in 2024. “The Book of Saint Albans,” written 500 years ago, was the first to list collective nouns. Burrows said that since Saint Albans wasn't familiar with species all over the world, it has been up to modern writers to coin collective nouns for new species. Whether the new nouns become widely accepted depends on whether the usage become common, he said.


A Family Affair

Ted Floyd is the longtime Editor of Birding magazine and the author of many essays, articles, and books about birds and nature. Ted and his family have been involved with the Yampa Valley Crane Festival since the festival’s inception. Son Andrew, a junior at Centaurus High School in Lafayette, Colorado, has been involved with the Yampa Valley Crane Festival since he was crane high. When he’s not biking around Steamboat Springs, look for Andrew at festival events at the Yampa River Botanic Park and the Carpenter Ranch.


In addition to a number of workshops, the father/son duo will present “Pollinators: Hummingbirds and Hummingbird Moths” on Friday, September 1, at Yampa River Botanical Park, at 3 and 4 p.m. After a short introduction, there will be a pollinator walk at a relaxed-pace. Meet at the Trillium House within the Botanic Park


Top Photo Caption: The Yampa Valley Crane Festival kicks off on Thursday, Aug. 31. (Mike Mack/ Courtesy)

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