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  • Honk if you Love Geeses - The High Plains Snow Goose Festival Begins!

Honk if you Love Geeses - The High Plains Snow Goose Festival Begins!

It’s early February, and the color of the sky overhead can only be described as azure, that cyan-blue that is so typical of cloudless winter skies in southeastern Colorado. The quiet of the afternoon is slightly disturbed by the usual soundtrack of every day noises when suddenly there’s the sound of something…different…in the distance. Faint at first, those hearing it for the first time find it hard to identify the cacophony of individual voices calling out in a chorus of loud, nasally, staccato, single syllables that some describe as reminiscent of large packs of howling hounds. But as the sound grows closer and louder, it becomes more familiar. Before long, its source comes into view. And as distinct as the sound may have been, the sight overhead is remarkable.

Nature Made Photography; Jill White SmithIt’s the snow geese. Thousands of brilliant white snow geese. At first, they seem to just be flying in one large mass, but it soon becomes apparent that they’re flying in a stack of “V” formations with one formation flying at progressively higher altitudes than another, their voices unbelievably loud as they pass. No sooner does that first wave pass overhead and disappear into the southern sky when another wave comes along and then another wave after that, each one as large and loud as the last. The birds are making their annual migration south. Their journey begins in the Arctic, northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia, and these birds with wing spans that range from three to four feet travel as far as 5,000 miles, searching for warmth.

Once they come to this region, the travel plans seem to change as the ponds, lakes and reservoirs found in southern Kiowa and Prowers Counties are just too inviting to pass over. So, as happens every year, a large number of the snow geese decide to hang out for a while. In fact, it could almost be said the area is a quasi-tourist destination site for these stunning waterfowl who arrive via the Western Central Flyway—a literal interstate high-way that includes Colorado, New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle.

Although the actual numbers of geese in the area is fluid with some coming, others going and yet others hanging around, the best time to see these white plumed wonders in all their glorious numbers is the first week of February. And given how hard and how far they flapped to get here, it seems only right to celebrate their arrival with a festival.

That’s exactly what happened about 18 years ago when the LAMAR HIGH PLAINS SNOW GOOSE FESTIVAL first took flight.

Nature Made Photography; Jill White SmithThe annual festival runs from Thursday, February 6th to Sunday, the 9th and takes place in Lamar. It’s the largest bird festival in Colorado and a longtime favorite of birders (one of the fastest growing past times in the nation), and the schedule of activities at the High Plains Snow Goose Festival is loaded with activities to please birders with all levels of experience. 

Even those people who don’t consider themselves birders will make the trek to southeastern Colorado just to witness the snow geese in person. Once here, they’ll find that the festival celebrates not only the extraordinary waterfowl but the region, as a whole. “We expect a pretty big crowd this year,” states Jessica Medina, Festival Director. “Based on our registration, we’re probably going to have four to five times more people than we’ve had in past years. But people can also register once they come to the festival, so we’re just going to see how it turns out.” When asked why such a turnout, Medina attributes the festival expanding its to more and different things for participants to enjoy. “We’re offering a lot of new tours and programs,” she says. “And we have a lot of new vendors, which people will really like. It’s an event worth coming to.”

But there is no doubt about it: the geese are the main attraction.

“Between 35,000 and 55,000 snow geese will come through Colorado each year,” states Rick Gardner with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “This weekend, we’ll probably have between ten and twenty thousand. And they won’t be just snow geese. There will be some Ross’s geese with them, too.”

Nature Made Photography; Jill White SmithThe population of snow geese has been steadily increasing in the last few years to the point that their Arctic breeding habitat is at risk. While a number of habitat restoration and preservation programs are working to address the problem, Gardner states that the population increase is also part of nature doing its work. “The migration is really difficult,” Gardner says. “Just think about it. The birds are flying thousands of miles and they’re vulnerable to all sorts of things on the way. Weather patterns. Fifty or sixty mile an hour winds like we get here can blow geese into a structure or power lines. If they hit a strong headwind, it requires them to eat more for fuel, but if there isn’t food available, they may starve. They could also die from the lack of water along the way, too. And, of course, there are hunters and other predators, too. Lots of factors that make them vulnerable. That’s why the large numbers are so important. With a fair amount of casualties, it’s important to have high numbers to make sure the population can go on.”

There’s also a wide range of ages among the birds who are flying. “Snow geese have a life span of about twenty years, so there are some pretty old guys making the trip,” Gardner says. “And there are some really young ones, too. Snow geese hatch out in June, so some of the birds may only be about four to eight months old. That’s really young.”

There’s also a reason people see and hear what they do. The “V” formation snow geese assume in flight not only saves energy, it also uses an aerodynamic phenomenon where the birds who follow can get “free lift” from the position and movement of the bird up ahead. For that reason, geese will change position in flight, allowing those who are tired to move to the back and those who are more rested to take the lead.

And what about the geese “talk”? “We know their sounds have meaning,” Gardner states. “They may all sound the same, but they’re actually making different sounds. Some calls are associated to feeding, some are geese calling out to other. We know they’re talking to each other. We just haven’t figured out everything they’re saying yet.”

But, according to Gardner, what still astounds people the most is seeing thousands of geese in the same place at the same time. “It’s awe inspiring,” Gardner said. “Impressive and awe inspiring.”

Nature Made Photography; Jill White Smith2020 TOURS AND PROGRAMS SCHEDULE
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND AT
www.highplainssnowgoose.com

REGISTER FOR A TOUR

All presentations will take place at and all tours will leave from:
Lamar High School
1900 S. 11th Street, Lamar, CO

February 7, 2020

South Canyon Tour: 5:30 am

Return by 5:30 pm | $47 per person, includes lunch
Enjoy a day full of history, scenery, and birding in the grasslands and canyon country in the southeast corner of Colorado. Visit Picture Canyon and Carrizo Canyon in the Comanche National Grasslands. See petroglyphs on the canyon walls. Hear stories of more recent human settlements in the area. We will provide the bus, box lunch, snacks, and tour guide—Laneha Everett, with local roots and an expert on the human and natural history of the area

Black Hole, Two Buttes Tour: 5:45am Leave before sun-up to arrive at sun-up
Return by noon | $30 per person
Join us for an early morning birding opportunity below the Two Buttes Reservoir Dam. Enjoy this beautiful birding hotspot on the Baca/Prowers County Line. This tour will also stop close to Turks pond where you can see amazing birds from afar. This tour involves walking on some uneven trails

Walking Tour of Willow Creek Walking Trail: 7 am
FREE
Lamar’s Willow Creek is renowned for exciting and unusual birds, year round. Join us for a tramp through the riparian area looking for these avian gems.

David Leatherman, Natural Wonders of Southeastern Colorado: 1 pm
FREE
A lifetime isn't enough to fully understand and celebrate the natural wonders of Southeastern Colorado. But in the hour provided, we will try. Whether you seek birds or insects, flowers or reptiles, this part of the state is exciting. Locals will learn something new; visitors will schedule a return. Where else in the state can you see 100,000 geese filling the sky, witness tarantulas prowling for mates, hear cardinals duel in song, watch a long-parched landscape burst into bloom 10 weeks after a blizzard, or have a roadrunner roost each night on your porch? It's prairie, river bottom and canyons. Hawks called "kites" live down the street. Turtles in the river have long necks and soft shells. In August, the cicadas sing all night. In short, SECO is a place of extremes, with flora and fauna to match. Let's celebrate!

Audubon's Conservation Ranching Program: 2 pm
FREE
Learn what it takes for your ranch to become Audubon Certified. This program will give you step-by-step guidance toward proudly wearing the Audubon Certified badge. Audubon Conservation Ranching (ACR) is breathing new life into our struggling grasslands—providing healthy habitat for birds, pollinators, and other wildlife and enabling ranchers to work their land in traditional and sustainable ways. By partnering with ranchers, Audubon's Conservation Ranching program is promoting bird-friendly grazing practice that protect and enhance millions of acres of grassland.

Snow Goose Tour SOLD OUT: 2 pm
Join Pat Palmer on a tour to see the snow geese. This tour will take you to where you can see more snow geese than you can count

The Sand Creek Massacre, a heritage presentation: 3 pm
FREE
A heritage presentation of the Sand Creek Massacre will give you insight into a historical event that took place in Southeast Colorado. Come listen to experts on this event.

Colorado Owls with Debbie Barnes Schankster: 4 pm
FREE
This is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the owls that you can find in Colorado from an expert. Debbie will start us off by teaching us about the owls and then lead us on our tour to see if we can spot any of these amazing birds

Owl Hike and Tour: 6pm
FREE | please arrange your own transportation


February 8, 2020
Snow Goose and Raptor Tour: SOLD OUT 5:45am
Leave in the dark to tour at sunrise
Return by noon
Join our keynote speakers, Marc & Eliana as we tour the grasslands in an area known for several species of raptors, and then the Arkansas River bottom for ducks and passerines. Bus and breakfast included. Indoors and outdoors with minimal walking.


Walking Tour of Willow Creek Walking Trail: 7 am
2 hours long | FREE
Lamar’s Willow Creek is renowned for exciting and unusual birds, year round. Join us for a tramp through the riparian area looking for these avian gems.


Camp Amache, a heritage presentation: 9 am
Ends at 10:30 am | FREE
Come watch this unique presentation on the historic Japanese internment camp, Camp Amache. Learn about the history of this area and then drive down and take a tour of the site.
Camp Amache Tour: Meet at 11 am


Migration with Gloria Nikoli: 11 am
Ends at Noon | FREE
Spring migration is full of tantalizing surprises amid expected patterns of birds on the move. Learn about spring migration in Colorado, some of the trends, expected species, and tools to see how and when migration varies. We will look at what factors cause migration, some species that migrate in separate groups of males and females, and the differences in diurnal and night migrants.


Live Birds with the Raptor Center: 1 pm
FREE
It wouldn't be a Snow Goose Festival without Diane Miller from the Raptor Center coming down and showing us all the amazing raptors and giving us an up close look at them. It is educational for the whole family.

Ted Floyd Presents: 2 pm
FREE
Ted Floyd, the editor of Birding, instructor with the ABA’s Institute for Field Ornithology program, and author of birding books—including the ABA Field Guide to Birds of Colorado, will take wow us as usual with a great program full of stories on birding.

Snow Goose Tour with Pat Palmer: SOLD OUT 2 pm
Return at 6pm
Join Pat Palmer on a tour to see the snow geese. This tour will take you to where you can see more snow geese than you can count.

Walking the Woods: 4 pm
Return at dark | FREE
Lamar’s Willow Creek is renowned for exciting and unusual birds, year round. Join our keynote speakers for a tramp through the riparian area looking for these avian gems

Evening Festivities with Keynote Speakers: 6:30 pm
$30 per person


February 9, 2020
Snow Goose Sunrise Tours: leave in the dark to watch take off at sunrise
Back by noon | $30 person | Please provide your own breakfast
Watch the snow geese wake up and fly off to their feeding grounds. Tour State Wildlife Areas and farm fields to see a variety of waterfowl, including Sandhill Cranes, ducks and shorebirds, and some Bald Eagles.


Rambling Home Tour Heading to the Front Range: 7am
Departure Trip: Otero County & Beyond. If you’re heading back on Sunday to points north and west of Lamar, this trip is for you. After breakfast at the Hickory House, we’ll visit spots along the Highway 50 corridor west of Lamar. The itinerary may include John Martin reservoir, Higbee Canyon, and Crowley Lake. We’ll figure it out as we go. NOTE: THIS TRIP DOES NOT RETURN TO LAMAR

  • A1 Towing
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  • Seth Walker
  • First Christian Church
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  • Eastern Slope Technologies
  • Peterson Payne
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  • Kiowa County Hospital District
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  • Siteground
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