Monte Vista After Action Report

Sandhill Cranes feeding in a field.
Sandhill Cranes during the Spring migration in Monte Vista, Colorado.

I’ve wiped off three months of winter boredom and have finally made a concerted effort to engage with photography.

Right on schedule, I’ve completed my annual Sandhill Crane migration photography trip in Monte Vista, Colorado. 2023 was my 14th year of photographing the cranes, and it was a enjoyable and successful trip with my friends Jim Esten and Tim Meseros.

The three-day trip gave us temps as low at 15 degrees and as warm as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Typical for early-mid March in Southern Colorado. No snow though, at least not until I returned home.

I read the estimated bird count for Monte Vista this year was something on the order of 20,000 birds. There is no way to verify that number, but I can say that there were plenty of birds in the area of Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. As luck would have it, the largest gathering of cranes were in the viewing area south of the refuge and in close proximity to us. The first day was mostly cloudy and with some wafting fog moving through the area.

Day two began with temps around 15 degrees and a nice sunrise, which makes for good sunrise photography even if it was a little frosty on the fingers. We finished the day with an absolutely delightful mass gathering of birds with several blastoffs.

Day three was abbreviated, as the birds were basically returning to the same location where we photographed them on day two. We knocked off and began our return trip to Denver by mid-morning.

The trip to Monte Vista isn’t all that involved. It’s about a 3.5 hour drive from Denver and the refuge is only 6 miles south of the hotel. All one really has to do is show up and be patient. We managed to get most of the photography done in 3 sessions. At some point it becomes repetitive so there’s no real reason to spend more time on the subject.

The area around the refuge continued a trend of dry conditions this year. The typical ponds and marshes were mostly dried up, and the birds were roosting inside the refuge in the larger lakes at night. We caught the sunrise and the gradual trickle of birds hearing out for the day. One of my favorite events to photograph.

Sandhill Cranes at sunrise.
Sandhill Cranes at first light in Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge.

So here I am on the morning after my return home finally getting to look through some 2,500 or so photos and the only issue was a delay in getting my photographs downloaded on the computer. Microsoft decided that it needed to take over my computer for a major upgrade so I spend the first 45 minutes of my first review of images waiting for Microsoft to let go of my computer. The update also fouled up the color calibration so I spent another hour recalibrating my monitors. After finally slogging through all of that nonsense, I’m able to now show you some of my first edits.

I’ll be at this for a few weeks. I can’t wait to see what other photos I’ve made. Stay tuned, I’ll be sharing more images from 2003 in the coming weeks.