There are three major areas within shouting distance of Denver for photographing Sandhill Cranes.
Kearney, Nebraska, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico and Monte Vista, Colorado.
I’ve been to each of these locations over the years and I’ve found my personal preference to be Monte Vista, Colorado.
Kearney, Nebraska is a major convergence point for the Lesser Sandhill Cranes, with upwards of 500,000 birds traveling through in late March every year. While the bird count is high, it’s a bit more difficult to get close to the birds along the Platte River near Kearney. The birds have a knack for avoiding humans and pretty much keep themselves at a distance from human activity. There are areas where one can get close, such as the Rowe Sanctuary, but for the most part, close up action requires you photograph the birds from a blind at a cost. Pay to play is the best way to get shots in Kearney.
Bosque del Apache in New Mexico is another splendid location for photographing the Cranes, with peak season being the first week of December each year. The problem with Bosque is that it’s so popular, the photographers show up in the thousands. All one has to do is spend a morning on the “flight deck” in Bosque and the full effect of having a large number of photographers gathered in a small spot is immediately apparent. It’s just too busy for my tastes.
My favorite location for photographing Sandhill Cranes is Monte Vista, Colorado.
Monte Vista hosts an annual Sandhill Crane Festival and I normally go there the week following the festival to avoid the crowds. Ground Zero for the festival is actually the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, which is about 7 miles south of the town of Monte Vista, on highway 15. Monte Vista has a population of about 4,500 and is about 250 miles from Denver. It is in the San Luis Valley in Rio Grande County, South Western Colorado.
What I find particularly attractive about Monte Vista is the surrounding landscape. The Great Sand Dunes are not far away and also offer another scenic location for photography. With the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east as a photographic backdrop, the location is far more scenic than Nebraska or New Mexico in my opinion.
Lodging is available in the Town of Monte Vista and in nearby Alamosa. The remaining area is fairly sparsely populated so traffic is seldom a problem.
This year, I’ll be in Monte Vista photographing the Sandhill Cranes on March 11, 12 & 13.
Maybe I’ll bump in to you. I always meet up with someone I know.
Below are a few sample photos from my previous trips to Monte Vista.